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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