Setting out across the sea of monsters: Bringing learning design into mediator training

Published date01 September 2019
Date01 September 2019
Setting out across the sea of monsters: Bringing
learning design into mediator training
Sabine Walsh
Head of Curriculum Innovation, Mediator
Academy, London, UK
Sabine Walsh, Head of Curriculum
Innovation, Mediator Academy, London,
As online education increases its foothold in higher and
professional education, educators must face the challenge
of bringing experiential learning activities such as role-
play into online settings. Mediation courses rely heavily
on role-play, but are increasingly moving online. This lit-
erature review will ascertain to what extent online media-
tion training is being considered, and how experiential
learning can be brought into the online classroom. Sugges-
tions will be made as to how such courses can be informed
by the theory and practice of effective learning design so
as to improve the experience of, and outcomes for online
students of mediation.
We behave as if we are content to live on two sovereign islands, one for academics and
one for practitionersseparated by an uncharted sea, full of monsters. (Honeyman,
McAdoo, and Welsh, 2001, p. 1, quoted in Macfarlane & Mayer, 2005, p. 259)
The discussion around integrating theory and practice more closely is not a new one. Many disci-
plines suffer from a gap between theory and practice, and the field of conflict resolution is only one
of these. This gap becomes most apparent in the context of education and training in this field, where
practice is taught without sufficiently addressing theory. Macfarlane and Mayer (2005), in hypothe-
sizing that education and training in conflict resolution offer a practical and conceptual nexus
between the worlds of theory and practice(p. 260), nonetheless found that in reality, little theory
was being used in training by those delivering it, despite the same individuals putting great value on
the development of theory and research in the field.
The theory(ies) that Macfarlane and Mayer (2005) were referring to are those underpinning the
field of conflict resolution. This article aims to explore the even more significant gap between the
Received: 12 September 2018 Revised: 5 April 2019 Accepted: 12 May 2019
DOI: 10.1002/crq.21255
Conflict Resolution Quarterly. 2019;37:7994. © 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 79
practice of teaching conflict resolution, and a different set of theories, namely those that inform the
design and delivery of effective learning, generally, and those that apply to learning online, more
Mediation training is delivered in a variety of contexts and formats throughout the world. Most
education and training providers have traditionally emphasized small group teaching, interactive,
workshop-style approaches and, particularly, the use of role-play and simulation (Walsh, 2015). The
latter also forms the basis for many organizations' assessment of mediator skills for the purposes of
professional accreditation. As awareness of mediation as a dispute resolution option grows, so does
the interest in such courses internationally.
At the same time, demand for online learning has been growing exponentially, particularly in the
higher and professional education sectors, with online enrollments continuing to grow year on year,
and an increasing focus on teaching job-specific skills online (Friedman, 2018). Online higher educa-
tion enrollments now outpace ordinary enrollments in university and changing demographics and
employer needs are driving a radical shift in how learning is being accessed and consumed (Fong,
Schroeder, & Halfond, 2017). Many courses are moving into the online environment, and mediation
is no exception. In both higher education and professional training contexts, those designing and
delivering mediation education are under pressure to offer their courses online (Holon IQ, 2019;
Online Learning Consortium, 2016).
This paper aims to test, using a literature review, a hypothesis that the author has formed based
on her professional experience in designing mediation courses, teaching mediation, assessing media-
tors, and externally evaluating training courses. This hypothesis is that, in general, online mediation
courses are designed and delivered without much, if any, consideration of approaches to, and best
practice in online learning and learning design, to the potential detriment of the courses in question
and the experience, therefore, of students taking mediation courses online.
Mediation and conflict management is one of a range of topics and disciplines that are now being
both practiced, and taught online, having previously been confined to the boardroom or the class-
room (Becker et al., 2017; Rainey, 2017). This raises many questions about various aspects of online
education (Webster, 2017). Wing and Rainey caution against transmuting the theory of face-to-face
conflict resolution practice to the online domain without adapting it to the new environment, and the
same holds true for the learning of mediation online (Wing & Rainey, 2012).
The deficiencies in foundational theories for online course design are relatively well documented,
as are their consequences. Professional development of instructors in new technology-based educa-
tion has also been concentrated on operating continuously evolving technological tools without pro-
viding valuable theoretical underpinnings or reliable research. This often resulted in ineffective
classroom applications and/or superficial renovation of traditional educational practices that did not
produce significant gains in the learning(Serdyukov, 2015, p. 62).
The review will be structured as follows: After a brief discussion of trends in mediation training
and education in general, the focus will be on role-play and simulation, and their delivery in the con-
text of fully online and blended courses. As the quantity of literature on online mediator education is
minimal, some forays will be made into the discussion of other, analogous disciplines being taught
online such as negotiation, online dispute resolution (ODR), and other forms of conflict management.
In reviewing this research, an attempt will be made to ascertain to what extent theories of learning
design and pedagogy have helped inform the design, or at least, the discussion of the training
reviewed, and where it may help in addressing problems, or filling gaps identified. It is hoped that
the outcome will be to show how even a basic knowledge of pedagogy and learning design theory
can assist in designing high-quality online mediation courses incorporating the highly valued

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