Teaching Negotiation Online: Lessons from Teaching in the Simmons College School of Management MBA and MHA Degree Programs

By — on / Pedagogy at PON

Simmons College believes that it is important for people in a leadership position, in almost any profession, to have a basic understanding of, and competency in, the negotiation process. Therefore, negotiation is a required course for the Simmons School of Management Master in Business Administration (MBA) and Master in Health Administration (MHA) degrees. The author designed and teaches the negotiation course for the Simmons online MHA program. In this program, the negotiation course is the lead course in the curriculum, and serves as a foundation course. The students are mid-career, health-systems professionals, many of whom have terminal degrees in their clinical areas of expertise. The author also teaches negotiation in the MBA program, where she designed the course as a “blended” experience, with some lessons taught online between face-to-face class sessions.

Both the online MHA and the blended MBA negotiation courses cover key negotiation principles and practices, including:

  • Distributive negotiation
  • Interest-based, integrative negotiation
  • Creating versus distributing value
  • Strategic communications and managing difficult conversations
  • Negotiating across power and cultural differences
  • Negotiation and new technology (email, Skype, video-conferencing, etc.)
  • Negotiation as a strategic and leadership tool


Creating conditions for collaborative problem solving and leadership success
In addition, both courses value active student participation in the learning process. Based on the Edgar Dale “Cone of Learning” (see Figure 1, below) in which it is noted that students learn and retain more when they are actively engaged in the process, simulations are used throughout the courses, and students are encouraged to discuss the application of negotiation principles and practices to their life experiences.

Figure 1:

Cone of Learning

Both the MBA and the MHA negotiation courses are taught as a series of learning modules. Each module has five key pedagogical elements:

  • Learning Objectives: Each module begins with clearly-stated learning objectives. In the online program these are provided through discussion notes plus a video of Professor Gutlove explaining the module’s objectives and why they are important.
  • Concept and Context Notes: Lecture notes are provided as a detailed PowerPoint with notes.
  • Resources: Reading assignments are often supplemented with video clips (3-7 minutes long, most found in open source) for online modules.
  • Discussion Groups: Classes in both the MBA and MHA program have cohorts of 25 to 30 students. These cohorts are subdivided into groups of 6-7, for discussion and application of theory to their own situations and for engagement in group projects.
  • Applications: Both courses rely on negotiation simulations (many from the PON clearinghouse), self-assessments, negotiation analysis worksheets, reflection papers, and class debriefs.

These elements are set up on an easy-to-access learning management system (LMS), as shown in Figure 2, below.

Figure 2:

Gutlove Screen Shot

Negotiation simulations are a very important aspect of teaching negotiation in both the blended and the online courses. In the online environment, negotiation simulations are carried out with other students in the class, using either email, telephone, or video Skype connections. In addition, for an entirely online class like the MHA program, there are simulations assigned to be done “offline”, with colleagues and friends. The negotiation simulations are thoroughly debriefed through student reflection papers, and a professor’s debrief paper, summarizing how the class did and the key lessons of the simulation. In addition, both the MHA and the MBA classes use an online negotiation exercise utilizing avatars and a response decision tree. All of the various online negotiation simulation experiences are well received and provide good learning opportunities, as discussed below.

Both the online MHA and the blended MBA courses have received very high ratings from students, with an average rating of 4.8 (MHA) and 4.6 (MBA) across 20 evaluative measures (5 is the highest possible rating). Students consistently report that they can now recognize the multiple opportunities to negotiate at work, and can see the connection between taking advantage of these opportunities and their own work and career success. They are able to distinguish among different negotiation models and assess their utility in different contexts. They can use an array of negotiation techniques and communication options to optimize their own negotiation success.

The MHA students reported that the online discussion groups provided a supportive and vibrant learning community. Students in the MHA and the MBA programs particularly valued the individual coaching provided by the instructor through comments on their reflection papers, and the professor’s assistance in application of the material presented to their work situations. The online environment is valued for its flexibility (work when you want) and its availability across diverse geography (locations of students registered in the online MHA negotiation courses have ranged from Alaska to Germany).

In addition, students learn valuable lessons about strategic communication in the online environment. In the MBA program the online modules are especially designed to provide experience of negotiating in a “virtual” environment. As communication in general – and hence, negotiation – seems destined to be increasingly managed through virtual channels (email, Skype, videoconferencing, etc.), leaning how to use these channels successfully becomes increasingly important.

Student feedback following both the online and the blended negotiation courses has been excellent, with evidence that students are applying the lessons learned immediately in the workplace, and are advancing their careers through demonstrated skills in negotiation and collaborative problem solving. Some excerpts of student feedback are as follows:

“Thank you so much for the valuable lessons you have given us throughout the past eight weeks. I will use the negotiation skills during my daily interactions with everyone.”

“Just wanted to say thanks for putting together a fantastic course and providing such thoughtful feedback. I’ve found myself utilizing these newfound skills both in my professional and personal lives almost daily. Really good practical stuff!”

“I LOVE this class, the format, and all of you. It is so supportive and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Without self-reflection and knowledge it is easy to make excuses as to why things don’t change or to blame others. …I have learned that no matter what role or formal power I have, I can make a difference if I choose to! Thank you for the wonderful experience.”

“Thank you so much for the valuable lessons you have given us throughout the past eight weeks. I will use the negotiation skills during my daily interactions with everyone.”

“Now that we have concluded class, I wanted to send you a note of personal appreciation for how you organized and conducted the negotiation class. I found the material that we covered intriguing and applicable on a number of levels both professionally and personally. The personal and group feedback that you provided after each of the reflection papers was very helpful and provided me with additional insight into my own work and understanding of the concepts presented in the readings. This interaction gave me a sense that I was improving my negotiation skill set throughout the 8 weeks of the course……….. From the standpoint of my own professional development, the time that you have devoted to each student as an individual was invaluable. …….”

Written for NP@PON by Professor Paula Gutlove, Simmons College, School of Management. 

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