Dotty Andragogy

The amusing musings of an adult educator in the corporate training world.

Why Role Playing is like Eating Vegetables

on October 5, 2014

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What do these expressions have in common? They are my favourite student expressions right after I’ve announced that we are going to do role play next.

Yup that’s right. Like Movember staches, the Twighlight series, and Christmas music, role plays seem to be a “love it or hate it” type of thing. Like most instructors, I’m a fan. Haters, please let me tell you why I love role play, and why I (and your teachers) will make you do it despite your reluctance.

  • One of the reasons role-play is highly impactful is because the learner has to put themselves in another’s shoes. This creates learning in your affective domain, where emotions and values are involved, as well as in your cognitive domain, where experiences are analyzed.
  • Role play is a safe way to practice where mistakes won’t hurt anyone. Can you imagine the consequences of “just winging it” when you have to deliver some devastating news to a patient?
  • It promotes verbal, physical, communicative, interpersonal skills and encourages intuitive thinking.
  • Because we are using real scenarios, you can apply the learning immediately in your job.
  • In role play, you are actively involved in the learning process and not just listening to me lecture on and on.

So you see, role playing is like eating your vegetables… it’s good for you. Your mom was right. And so am I.

That being said, I do recognize that role play can create a lot of anxiety, and that some students find it hard to take the artificial setting seriously, so I did some research on best practices. So, fellow role-play lovers, here are some tips to convert those haters over to our side:

  1. Role play scenarios should be as close to reality as possible. That encourages the gigglers to take it more seriously, and the haters to see the relevance to their work.
  2. Debriefing after the role play allows the learner to reflect and self-evaluate. It’s particularly important if strong emotions are evoked during the role play, which can happen especially if the situation is realistic and hits close to home for the learner.
  3. To tackle anxiety:
  • Acknowledge validity of these feelings
  • Create perceived VALUE of the activity, ask learners WHY exercise is necessary despite their reluctance
  • Be strategic with grouping timid with non-timid students
  • Stay away from using the term role play, simply say “let’s practice” instead
  • Rather than having role play in front of the class, divide into small groups and role play privately, or role play together as a large class where students can “tag team” each other in and out of the situation

After absorbing these pointers, I decided to apply the debriefing tip last week. After a role play activity in which students were asked to videotape themselves interacting with a difficult customer, I asked the class, “so what did you learn from practicing and then watching your video clips?”

  • “I learned that I need to lose a few pounds!”
  • “That I’m a terrible actor!”
  • “I learned that I hate role playing!” (echoes of agreement through the class)

*sigh*. Guess I need to learn how to ask more pointed questions in my debriefs. Conversion is hard!

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