Role play has become the dirty word of training, striking fear into even the most seasoned of employees. Trainees will often try to skip sessions where they know role play will take place and many trainers have simply given up trying to implement role play in their programmes.

In recent times, attempts have been made to try and make role plays more sexy. Simulated learning is a phrase which many now use instead, and the use of actors has given an extra edge to make the experience more ‘experiential’.

Research shows that role play can change attitudes and behaviours. It can be useful as it allows employees to build confidence,  practice skills they are learning and develop problem-solving solutions. 

In the words of John Dewey, “ We learn by doing.”


So why are people so put off by it? 

Here are some do’s and dont’s to implementing role play:

  • Do ensure time is given for preparation, with clear guidelines. This will make employees more likely to tackle the task with vigour.
  • Do go for it! Take it seriously. If you take it seriously then so will your audience.
  • Don’t bring individuals or pairs up to the front to role play in front of the group (hugely embarrassing for some).
  • Do split people into pairs or groups for simultaneous enactments. This takes the pressure off and will allow them to focus.
  • Don’t forget to align your role plays to reflect your product or sales techniques.
  • Do ensure constructive feedback is provided. Without feedback the exercise is limited in it’s effectiveness. 

Role play

How effective is role play really? 

As above, the more feedback we receive and the more opportunities we have to refine and practice, will make the experience more impactful. However, as with any learning experience, role play is only as effective as its use in the workplace. 

Role play is good at allowing learners to demonstrate skills. This lures many training professionals into thinking that the skill has been transferred and their “work here is done”. The issue is that without regular reflection, collaboration and/or coaching, learners are less likely to transform those skills into normal workplace behaviour (and feel supported in doing so).

For so many employees their development stops when they leave the training room and the skills they learn during role plays are forgotten over time (if not immediately).

The reality is that we ask employees to step out of their comfort zone but offer nothing in return. Whether it’s a lack of budget, lack of understanding or fear of failure, L&D professionals are too often unwilling to take a risk and tackle ongoing development in the workplace.

So, role play can be hugely beneficial when part of an ongoing learning plan, but without that wider plan, is it any wonder employees are disillusioned by it’s effectiveness?

To understand how to unlock the hidden potential in your organisation, download your free copy of the whitepaper, Vision for Learning Organisation.   

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Are your people sick of role play and how effective is it anyway?
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