Mark’s Blog

Role-plays simply don’t do the job we’d like them to do

When you’re running a workshop, would you like to see people’s eyes glaze over?

Probably not; but it’s easy. Just tell them they’re going to do a role-play. Bingo! Now of course, most will simply go along with it. After all, role-plays have been par for the course for a long time. And some might even look forward to it.

But here’s the thing. Role-plays don’t do the job some people hope they do; and most trainers, teachers and other educators know it. (And of course, so do most participants.)

Traditional role-plays in a nutshell

To be clear, we’re talking about are those activities where the participants devise, or are given, an example of a situation they might have to handle in real life. And often they practice using some specific communication strategies.

Then, they usually get into small groups and act out the example by taking turns playing the various characters or roles. Sometimes they do this with the aid of a script which dictates what each person in the role-play has to say.

The point is for the participants to get better at handling the situation if they encounter it in real life and perhaps get better at using some specific communication strategies.

The trainer, or facilitator, teacher, etc, usually goes from group to group to see how the participants are doing. In addition, sometimes each small group also acts out the example for the whole group.

Being unrealistic is just the top of the iceberg

Role-plays don’t do the job we hope they do because they have seven major problems and the problems are serious enough to make them of little or no value. The seven major problems are:

1.   People usually lack the necessary skills.

2.   People waste their time playing irrelevant roles.

3.   People sometimes act out bad behaviours.

4.   People sometimes act out scripts.

5.   Obstacles to the success of strategies are usually missing.

6.   The trainer can’t properly assess skill development.

7.   People sometimes perform in front of the whole group.

Of course, not every role-play will have every one of these problems. However, most have enough to defeat the purpose of running the role-play. And it’s important to note, the problems are not the fault of the trainer but the very nature of traditional role-plays themselves.

A brief description of each of these problems is in the completely FREE ebook:

The problems with role-plays and how we can do better: A resource for trainers.

It’s an easy read and ready for immediate download.

If you’d like to know more about the FREE ebook, just click here.

I have a similar FREE ebook for teachers. You can check it out here.

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