Roleplays Can Be Your Best Choice (Part 1): Using Roleplays

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Darryl L. Sink and Associates, Inc. (DSA) helps organizations design and develop learning and performance solutions that get results. DSA works cooperatively with organizations to:

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Roleplays are a great way to safely simulate the interpersonal aspects of a job. I was once teaching the learning activities lessons in The Instructional Developer Workshop to a group of all technical trainers who expressed that they didn’t need a lesson on roleplays because roleplays were not appropriate for technical training. These people were training the people who were going out to repair mainframe computers that were not functioning properly. I asked the simple question: Do these technical people ever run into a customer who is upset because the mainframe computer is down and they are losing thousands of dollars? The resounding answer was YES!

I then asked if it might be helpful for these people to gain some skills at interacting with upset customers. My audience then said, ok, show us how roleplays can help.

In Part 1 of this Tips article, let’s look at the purpose of roleplays, different kinds of roleplays you might consider using, and some final thoughts on what roleplays are good for. In Part 2, we’ll provide a strategy and some tips on how to design/develop structured roleplays.

The primary purpose of roleplays is to help learners practice interpersonal skills and rehearse specific behaviors. The key characteristics of a roleplay include:

  1. A description of the situation and characters
  2. Choices for the learners to make
  3. Consequences resulting from those choices

Here are 5 different kinds of roleplays you might consider:

1. Pairs

Two characters confront each other. This type can be conducted simultaneously throughout a class room.

I have used a paired roleplay to explore how to interview a subject expert. The expert and the instructional designer each have an identical set of colored blocks. The subject expert arranges the blocks and the instructional designer interviews the subject expert to arrange the blocks as the subject expert has them without either person looking at the other persons’ blocks. They then switch and do it again. Debriefing then occurs.

2. Triad

Two people roleplay, one person acts as an observer with a checklist. It can be conducted simultaneously throughout the room.

3. Fishbowl

A small group roleplays while the audience observes them. The audience can be given a task to do, perhaps with paper and pencil, to play along with the roleplayers.

4. Individual, Do-It-Yourself

An individual roleplay is ideal for self-instruction.

It can take place anywhere, at any time. It usually involves putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, or rehearsing a situation such as a sales presentation.

5. Team Roleplay

Assign teams to play each role. Teams should discuss and reach a consensus on what they will say and do. This allows novice members to tap into the experience that may already exist in the group. This is a good introduction before breaking students into pairs or triads.

What Are the Special Role of Roleplays?

  1. Roleplays enable the learner to experience aspects of a situation without being thrown into the complexities of a situation all at once.
  2. Roleplays are useful in preparing people to make complex decisions under pressure.
  3. Roleplays encourage people to learn from each other in a cooperative way.

In Part 2, we’ll explain the importance of structured roleplays and give you a step-by-step process for creating a roleplay.

See you next time,