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Teaching Videos in Mediation Training: Why Use Them and How To Do it Well

As someone who does community mediation trainings and also teaches mediation and ADR in law school, I have been struck by the fact that teaching videos are widely used in law school courses, but rarely in community mediation trainings. Both types of training rely on live role play simulations as a core teaching methodology, but most law school classes are too large for the instructor to observe and provide individualized feedback to all role play participants. One way in which law school instructors have adapted their teaching has been to use teaching videos to complement live role plays.

The purpose of this article is to advocate for greater use of teaching videos in mediation trainings; to encourage trainers to view videos not as a poor substitute for live role plays but as a supplementary and effective method of developing an understanding of the mediation process and demonstrating the skills that are essential to success as a mediator.

The article describes the “why” and “how” of using teaching videos in mediation trainings, including: the benefits of video as a teaching methodology; some potential risks in using videos (and how to minimize them); common teaching techniques for using videos, and a bibliography of video resources and articles on teaching with videos.

1. Why video?

Live role plays, in which the trainees are assigned active roles as mediators, parties (and attorneys) are very engaging and can convey a sense of the unscripted spontaneity of an actual mediation. The trainers, and other participants, can give immediate and concrete feedback which reinforces the teaching goals of the exercise.

Videos as a teaching tool are not a substitute for role playing, but can complement and enhance the learning from role plays. What are some of the advantages of video.

  • Videos can be viewed outside of group training time – Live role plays take place when all participants and observers are available, which normally means during limited training time. Teaching videos can be shown during training sessions, but can also be assigned as homework before or after a role play in class, allowing students to review the video on their own time.
  • Presenting positive models – A video can demonstrate an experienced mediator who is following the model or employing the techniques that are being taught. In contrast, training role plays are typically done by the inexperienced trainees, and inevitably there will be some positive and some negative behaviors and interactions. Making mistakes and learning from them is part of the teaching methodology of role playing, but there is a place for positive role modeling as well.
  • Control of the teaching material – When you use a prepared video, you know exactly what will happen; you can show the portions that focus on your teaching goal; you can stop and start whenever you want. In live role plays, the trainer/teacher has much less control over how the simulation will play out. The spontaneity and unpredictability that makes live role plays so engaging has the downside that the parties might not follow the script, or may not present realistic emotions, or may take too long to get to the teaching goal of the exercise.
  • Simulation unaffected by starting & stopping – The simulation shown on a video is “frozen” – starting and stopping the video doesn’t affect its flow. The trainer can stop the video, make comments and ask questions, and then start the video again right where it left off. In live demonstrations, interrupting the action for comments and discussion can make it difficult to resume as if nothing had happened. If the trainer wants to closely critique and comment on a series of questions by a mediator, for example, it is much easier to do so using video.
  • Less inhibited critique – In live role plays, trainers are taught to be very sensitive about how they give feedback on trainee performances. Direct, negative criticism can easily embarrass or discourage individuals who are experimenting with new techniques and a new role. Other trainees are reluctant to be direct and critical in their comments as well. The same is not true of video presentations – trainers and trainees don’t hold back in their critical comments of the video performers. In critiquing a video, a trainer can make clear and unambiguous evaluative comments, like “That was done poorly!” – which could not be made as directly and emphatically in a live role play.
  • Opportunity for assessment (and self-assessment) of trainees – When it is possible to video-record the trainees in their live role plays, it creates the most effective vehicle for assessment and self-assessment. The recording can be reviewed, outside of class or training time, by the trainer and/or by the trainee, allowing for more in-depth critique and self-assessment.
  • Humor – Light-hearted videos and movie clips can provide a nice break from the intensity of extended mediation sessions and can help “loosen up” participants for their role plays. For example, the opening scene in the movie Wedding Crashers shows a dysfunctional divorce “mediation”, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has produced an animated video of a mediation based on the children’s story of the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf.

2. The Downsides of Video?

  • Watching a video is not as active an experience as participating in a role play (but it is as active as watching one). Too much reliance on videos can result in the trainees becoming passive and less engaged in the learning process. This risk can be minimized, however, by using videos that have a direct connection to the training role plays. For example, students usually are very engaged when the video demonstrates a skill or stage of mediation that they are about to perform in a role play, or when the video shows an experienced mediator conducting a session based on the same fact pattern as the role play they have just done.
  • Videos of complete mediations tend to be very long and often quite boring – mediation is a process in which dramatic breakthroughs can be separated by long periods of little apparent progress. Editing longer videos can be very time consuming and may require technical expertise. On the other hand, videos that present only excerpts of a mediation are sometimes unrealistic, lacking the verisimilitude of a continuous mediation.
  • Selection of the videos takes time and patience, but is very important. Some of the available videos lack the realism of an actual mediation – they are stilted and stiff, probably the result of being overly scripted. Trainers should take the time to preview a variety of possible videos to find what is right for the particular training. [See section on Video Resources, below]
  • Creating your own teaching videos is ideal, if you have the time and resources. It is a substantial investment up front, but if done well it can be used over and over again, and it can be tailored to the specific skills and simulations that fit your teaching goals.

  • 3. Teaching Techniques with Videos

    There are a variety of ways in which mediation trainings use videos for the development of mediation skills. Some of the most common are described, below. For each of these examples, the teaching video can be shown during training classes or, in order to save class time, may be assigned for viewing either before or after class, depending on its purpose.

    • Before having trainees conduct a role play, show a video that models the stage of mediation or techniques being taught and that will be involved in the role play.
    • Before a live role play, show a video that sets the stage for what will be roleplayed. For example, it might show an incident that gives rise to the dispute (e.g., firing of an employee or argument among business partners), giving a more realistic “flavor” of the dispute than written instructions.
    • After the trainees conduct a role play, show a video of an experienced mediator doing the same simulation. It can include stages of the mediation that the trainees experienced, or it can show later stages (and challenges for the mediator) that the role play might not have reached.
    • Ask trainees to watch the beginning stages of a mediation, then have them do a live role play that picks up where the video left off. Since there is usually not enough time to do simulated mediation from start to finish, having the traineess view the earlier stages on video in advance allows them to experience the later stages of a mediation in live role play.
    • Compare mediation styles and techniques by showing excerpts of different mediators. This can be done with mediators conducting the same simulation, or with excerpts from different mediations that show contrasting approaches, such as facilitative/evaluative and narrow/broad.
    • Show a portion of a mediation and stop the video at a challenging point. Ask for comments and critique of what the trainees observed so far. Then ask, What would you do next? Why? Then continue with the video to see what the “expert” did.
    • Videotape trainees as they do role plays. Have the trainee review the video and prepare a self-assessment, reflecting on his/her performance and what was learned from the exercise. Trainees can identify segments with particularly interesting or challenging interactions (e.g., 00:55 to 01:30) for review with the trainer. Depending on the time available, the trainer can review the whole tape or just the segments designated by the trainee, either on her own or with the trainee.

    4. Video Resources

    While searching on the internet will provide many “hits” for videos about mediation and simulating mediations, many are not of professional quality or take too much time to review. An excellent starting point for researching teaching videos is a website created by Professor Dwight Golann, Suffolk University Law School, which collects ideas from law school teachers:

    Several mediation textbooks have accompanying DVDs with teaching videos, and a website with additional materials for teachers who adopt the text. For example, Folberg, Golann, Kloppenberg and Stepanowich, Resolving Disputes: Theory, Practice and Law, 2nd ed. (Aspen Publishers, 2010); and Frenkel and Stark, The Practice of Mediation (Aspen Publishers, 2008).

    An excellent series of video excerpts for mediation training is the DVD, “The Skills of a Mediator”, which is available without charge to ADR teachers and trainers, from the JAMS Foundation,

    5. Conclusion

    The teaching of mediation skills is best accomplished through a combination of readings, lecture, demonstration, role plays and critique. Live role plays, with feedback from experienced trainers, are appropriately the primary methodology for developing those skills. Using teaching videos in mediation trainings can greatly enhance the learning that comes from role playing exercises and can expand the exposure that trainees have to mediation models and techniques. As described in this article, there are advantages to incorporating teaching videos in mediation training and there are a variety of techniques for the effective use of video.


    Golann, “Using Video to Teach Negotiation and Mediation”, Dispute Resolution Magazine, Winter 2007, p. 8-11,

    Along with the above article, Professor Golann created a excellent website of resources and links on the use of video and films in teaching mediation.

    Benjamin & Adler, “Reel Negotiation: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: Reflections Of Negotiation And Mediation In Film”, (October 2006)

    Rabin, “Making and Using Films to Teach Negotiation”, (June, 2010) Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School

    O’Neil, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Camera: Video in Negotiation Pedagogy”, (May, 2011) Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School


    Robert Smith

    Robert H. Smith is a Professor and former Dean at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.  He has taught Mediation courses at Suffolk and at Boston College Law School for 20 years, and has been an active community mediator in divorce, family, and housing disputes.  He serves as a trainer… MORE >

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