Thank you to Joanne Law for this post.
Joanne Law is a registered Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, NMAS Accredited Mediator, Certified Family Group Conference Facilitator and New Ways for Families Coach. She’s owner of Mediation Institute, established in 2013 to provide eLearning for the dispute resolution industry, with a human touch.
She is a professional trainer and co-founder of the not-for-profit Interact Support established to prevent family violence and abuse by providing accurate information and dispute resolution services for people who are slipping through the cracks in the family law system.
Joanne records a podcast called Mediator Musings which you can find on iTunes and other podcast distributors and is curator for TEDxCasey in South East Melbourne.
The benefits of technology assisted training in dispute resolution
Using education technology is a rapidly growing approach to human learning. The dispute resolution education industry is not immune this trend and eLearning is now well established by pioneering organisations such as Mediation Institute.
The traditional approach to mediation training gathers people into a room for a workshop with lecture style instruction on new material and role plays in an intensive training environment.
Studies that compare classroom instruction, eLearning and blended learning indicate that eLearning and especially blended learning are at least as good as, and when well-designed, outperform classroom instruction alone. The major factors in eLearning that provide these benefits are realistic practice, spaced repetitions, contextualised meaningful scenarios and feedback.
There have been various studies and meta studies such as Means and Colleagues 2013—Meta-Analysis which conclude “eLearning-only situations produced an equal amount of learning compared with classroom-only situations. Blended learning (a combination of both classroom and online learning) produced better results than classroom-only instruction.”
It makes sense to use of technology to support learning in terms of cost, accessibility and flexibility. Mediation Institute delivers courses either fully online or via blended learning where there is no adequate way to simulate through video meeting. Our Family Group Conference Facilitation course is one where the skill to learn is facilitating a group meeting which takes place face to face.
It is important to design learning for eLearning and not just put offline material online.
What is online learning?
Online learning or eLearning is a form of education whereby the primary delivery mechanism is via the internet (Bates 2008) It is more than an evolution of the distance learning correspondence course and when well-designed makes use of technology in a unique way. The use of a website to deliver PDF content is still available and called online learning but that kind of approach gives eLearning a bad name, and promotes a bad student experiences and high drop out rates.
E-learning includes the use of a learning management system to provide course content, the opportunity to blend audio and video material, conduct quiz’s and assessments and to engage in on line recorded and live classes with other students.
Three of the biggest advantages we see for students in online learning are individualised learning, better feedback delivery and helping our learners to be better prepared for the future in the industry which we firmly believe will have a much greater presence of Online Dispute Resolution.
The accessibility and flexibility of elearning means that learning can be individualised . In the case of skills learning activities can be reduced down to the minimum number of participants to participate in a role play.
We are eagerly awaiting the time when Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence is sufficiently advance and affordable to allow us to provide individualised simulation opportunities for students. Till then with three students and a mentor and two hours to spare they can participate in a role play from wherever they are, providing they have access to the internet.
We favour asynchronous learning where possible, which means is that students can start their studies with Mediation Institute when they are ready to start, move through the course at their own pace and book in to do their role plays when they are ready.
There is real time learning in webinars and role plays but the rest of the course is self-paced with discussions via a forum where they can read other students’ entries and contribute in their own time. Semesters, course start dates and set assessment are for the convenience of educational institutions and provide no benefit for students, apart from a bit of extrinsic motivation. This flexibility means that we are tracking at 95 – 100% completion rate, depending on the course.
Individual support starts when a new student joins a course as we can use web meeting technology to offer individualised student orientations. In the session we hand over control of screen sharing to the student so they can navigate the course on their computer and the mentor can guide them remotely. Students book in for sessions like this using an online booking calendar tool that lets them schedule a session and insert it into the mentor’s calendar.
The other benefit of this individualised approach to learning is that the first role plays that they participate in are with students who have already participated in three role plays as a role player before their first role play as a mediator. In workshops the first role plays are often short and very messy due to everyone struggling to understand the new information they have just been presented with and a lack of good examples to work from. All of the role plays our students participate in are scheduled for two hours and provide the opportunity for tailored mentoring based on the needs of the student who is learning their new skills.
We use flipped learning which means that the theory learning takes place using online learning before interactive webinars, role play sessions or workshops. The students will have already completed some or all of the theory part of the course and ideally have had time to integrate what they have learnt as role players well before they attempt to use the skills as the facilitator.
This isn’t possible in a workshop as the time constraints of the schedule mean that the delivery pace is usually going to be too fast or too slow for the majority of the group. People get pushed through to role playing being a mediator with an incomplete understanding of the knowledge they need and sometimes struggle to even remember let alone understand the content and effectively translate it into competent role plays for their final assessment.
Our learning approach means that students are competent by the time they reach their assessment 95% of the time. For the small number who are not we offer further coaching and the opportunity to be re-assessed.
Better feedback delivery
Being a competent mediator is a unique skill building on interpersonal skills that most students already have. Learning how to mediate requires an adjustment in mindset and approach. Our experience is that students are often older learners who are very competent in roles where they give advice or advocate for clients. They may be used to working with a certain type of client, for example victims of family violence and have to learn how to work with other people in a non-judgemental way in order to facilitate a fair process while still using judgement in order to ensure that the process is physically and emotionally safe. It is complex work.
Approximately one third of our students are legally trained, another third are counsellors, psychologist or social workers and the rest from a business or other background.
They need to learn the mediation process, why the process developed and what each part of it does to help people to negotiate more effectively and how to be non-judgemental and empowering in their facilitation styles.
The benefit of doing our role plays using video mediation is that students can record their role plays and review them to help them to take in the feedback from their mentor.
Unconscious bias, poor questioning or failing to use active listening effectively and other problems can be pointed out and then they can review their role play to observe themselves.
I still remember the cognitive resistance that I and other learners had when I learned mediation in the traditional way, there was no action replay available to us! Sometimes we thought the mentor must have been mistaken in their feedback or struggled to understand it, impeding our learning.
Better prepared for the future
Online mediation is a growing trend that will continue to grow as more and more “digital natives” take up roles in business and become clients for mediators. Communicating electronically using video meeting technology is already becoming common.
I’ve already seen this trend in my own career as a dispute resolution professional and in the not-for-profit run, Interact Support.
Our policy is that if there is a family violence order in place, we don’t offer offline services. The options are video mediation, video shuttle mediation or mediator facilitated negotiation. The majority of our clients either seek out or accept video mediation even if family violence isn’t a factor in their relationship breakdown.
The use of legal tech is also going to be a major trend in our industry.
We train our CHC81115 – Graduate Diploma of Family Dispute Resolution students using Legal Tech software such as the Detection of Overall Risk Screening tool (DOORS) and FamilyProperty for their property FDR mediation simulations. We believe that it is important to ensure that new mediators are comfortable using technology with clients. Those who go on to do their fifty hours work placement with Interact Support are already prepared to work effectively with clients using video mediation and Family Property for their mediations and will be learning how to use MODRON for case management.
We’re currently developing a course on mediation case management which will be built around the MODRON online dispute resolution software.
The tool helps us to manage case management for our low income and community mediation programs.
We are firmly in the information revolution now that knowledge can be captured, digitally transported and used later. We are at an equivalent stage to the start of the industrial revolution when they were first able to capture energy and transport it for later use in the industrial revolution.
My concern is that many mediators are caught up in the same sort of thinking that the Luddites used when trying to hold back the tide of industrialisation in the 19th century. Resisting advances in technology due to the belief that it will threaten jobs is almost a self-fulfilling prophesy while embracing and using the technology to amplify our human capability ensures we remain relevant as dispute resolution professionals.
Failing to do that will see a continued advance of the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to replace human decision making and facilitation of dispute resolution processes.
Alternative Dispute Resolution is increasingly being required to be used before litigation and Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) is providing low-cost and independent dispute resolution in a much more accessible way that the traditional approach with its mediation rooms and waiting lists.
A Victorian Civil and Administrative (VCAT) ran a pilot in 2018 on ODR powered by MODRON to evaluate a hypothesis that “If VCAT introduces online dispute resolution then the Victorian community will experience improved access to justice.” You can watch a brief overview here https://youtu.be/LTkT9Z7cn9c on the pilot.
Mediation effectiveness doesn’t depend on the way it is delivered, what matters more is that it is available when it is needed rather than allowing disputes to continue to escalate.
When it comes to learning effectiveness, it is not whether the learning is delivered in eLearning or classroom instruction, it is the quality of the training that makes the difference.
Poor quality training in either context is going to be poor quality training.
Technology enables better quality training by making it easier to be more individualised, more flexible and provide better feedback and more realistic simulations. Anything that moves away from presenting information via a lecture and expecting a group of people to learn at the same pace is a positive improvement.
The research shows that it is essential to present to learners’ realistic scenarios for decision making, spaced repetitions over time to ensure retention, real world context through simulations and high quality feedback on their individual performance.
Online learning provides the opportunity to give learners these opportunities more effectively.
Design for how people learn Julie Dirksen and the Serious eLearning Manifesto – https://elearningmanifesto.org/
Online delivery of VET qualifications: current use and outcomes Tabatha Griffin and Mandy Mihelic National Centre for Vocational Education Research. https://www.ncver.edu.au/research-and-statistics/publications/all-publications/online-delivery-of-vet-qualifications