Tip #44: Experiential Training Methods: Role Play

There are many different experiential training methods that ensure a rich learning experience. Today, we will discuss the Role Play.

What: A role play is a simulation of a real life situation.

When: It can be used at the beginning of a lesson to model an interactive skill that will be learned. It can also be used at the end of a lesson to evaluate the learners’ ability to apply what has been learned. Because role plays are intimidating to many learners, it is best not to schedule a role play until the end of a workshop when trust and comfort levels have been established.

Why: It is intended to provide an opportunity for the learners to observe and/or practice new skills in a realistic situation.

How: There are numerous ways in which to use a role play. If the intent is to model how to use a certain skill, the participants can watch a videotape or a simulation between two trainers, between a trainer and a participant volunteer, or between two participant volunteers.

The key points or steps in the skill being learned need to be identified prior to viewing the simulation, and then labeled after viewing the simulation. It is helpful to have the participants note down key points as they watch, and then discuss their points afterwards.

If two participant volunteers are used, it is helpful to have the roles written down, with visual emphasis added to identify key points they should demonstrate in their role play.

If the intent is to have the participants practice a new interactive skill, it is best to give them time to analyze a situation (either a prepared situation or a personal situation they have chosen) and identify key points. They should also be given time to script out their role play, both in terms of language and behavior of both parties.

In writing a role play, sufficient background information needs to be provided regarding the situation, the personal characteristics, interests, and behaviors of the players, and the relationship between the players. Many times, a general background sheet is given to all players. They then receive individual briefing sheets in addition, to alert them to the specific part they will play in the role play interaction.

If the participants are requested to prepare and present a role play, the actual role play should be no more than 10 minutes. The actual role play can be conducted in groups of five, in which participants alternate role playing or providing observer feedback. This permits those participants who are uncomfortable with role playing to benefit from opportunities to observe others and provide feedback to them.

If triads are used, again the participants can alternate who role plays and who provides feedback.

It is important that the role play process be modeled by the trainer before the groups begin their work. Their instructions and worksheets should be clearly reviewed. Once the groups have had an opportunity to run through one role play, it is necessary for the trainer to bring the entire group back together to discuss what is going well and resolve any areas of confusion. The trainer should continually dip-stick in an unobtrusive manner, in order to be sure no group gets stuck.

The groups can then volunteer to present their role play in front of the entire group, or each participant may be required to present his or her role play in front of the group. The observers should have feedback sheets and be instructed to give “loving, nonjudgmental feedback” that still respects the individual’s need to learn and grow within the protected training environment.

Once the role play has been presented, the trainer can ask the group for its feedback: strengths, and then areas for improvement. The individual observers can subsequently give their written feedback sheets to the primary role player, for his or her later review.

These role plays can also be videotaped, in order to provide the best and most complete feedback. If so, the participants may prefer to be given their videotape to review privately after the class.

It is best to limit role playing in front of the group to no more than ten role plays. Otherwise, it can exhaust the patience and energy of the group. It is helpful to have a sign up sheet for the role players to schedule their presentation, staggered every twenty minutes.

It is also necessary to summarize key learning from the role play exercise at its conclusion, through large group discussion.

Length: Depending upon the intent and the mode of the role play, this method can take from 15 minutes (to show a simple video or model a simple interaction) to several hours (if the participants need to develop their role play situation, script it out, practice it, and then present it to the larger group for feedback).

In the latter case, an approximate rule of thumb is 20 minutes to develop the situation, 20 minutes to script it out, and 20 minutes to practice it. Each role play should take 10 minutes to present and 10 minutes to receive verbal group feedback. In other words, it is wise to schedule an entire afternoon to ensure sufficient time for participant role plays.

Benefits: There are a number of benefits to the use of a role play:

  • It can give the learners an opportunity to apply what they have learned to a real life situation.
  • It can develop the learners’ analytic skills.
  • It can test the learners’ ability to use what they have learned.
  • It can make technical information come alive.
  • It can increase the learner’s ability and confidence to use the skill.
  • It can increase the learners’ probability of using the skill outside the classroom.

Level of Learning: Application, but also possibly Knowledge, Comprehension, and Analysis.

Learning Styles: Aural, visual, print, interactive, haptic, and kinesthetic (depending on the activity).

Next week, we will begin to explore a variety of quick kinesthetic experiential training methods useful for checking comprehension, including a gallery walk, a debate, a pop up, and a relay race.

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