Building intense learning environments through simulation design

Simulations aim to replicate realistic problems from the field in a relatively controlled classroom environment. However, this is difficult since field-based problems are vulnerable to contextual changes, complicated by divergent social interests, and seldom straightforward. In this video, Brian Mandell and his teaching team discuss how they design classroom simulation experiences that mirror the real world and ratchet up pressure for students. This global negotiation simulation in particular features misaligned interests, cultural clashes, and periodic news bulletins that shift the very ground on which students’ fragile negotiations are being built.


Brian Mandell, Mohamed Kamal Senior Lecturer in Negotiation and Public Policy

Student Group



Harvard Kennedy School


Advanced Workshop in Multiparty Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

Group Size

60 students  

  • Design simulations in which solutions are not immediately evident and participants are required to authentically collaborate to solve problems and reach agreements. 
  • In order to raise the stakes and ensure that students experience the challenges of real-world compromise firsthand, consider establishing detailed roles for participants that are not inherently compatible.  
  • Find ways to make simulation contexts realistic. Consider sharing unfolding information about simulated context. Introduce new obstacles and changes at critical junctures during the exercise.
  • Simulations have been linked to improved knowledge retention and performance in medical training. They are also associated with helping students develop collaborative teamwork skills (Okuda et al., 2009). 
  • According to the expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation, student expectations for success in a task can influence achievement-related student choices (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000). This theory suggests that finding the right degree of difficulty is important when considering student motivation.