What are the advantages of roleplaying in training?

Some trainers have a tendency to over-estimate the value of role playing in training, but there is no question that role playing can provide powerful and significant learning opportunities. Here are some of the advantages role playing has over other instructional processes:

  • Role playing can (that is it has the capability) to develop greater involvement with the issues and knowledge that is the focus of training (but it may not create greater involvement).
  • Role playing can be used as a behavioral pre-training assessment or diagnostic to assess where a learner is in terms of skills, since the trainer can observe real behaviior.
  • Role playing also allows assessment of how well learner understands and can apply what is learned, as indicated in their behavior.
  • Provides opportunity to practice in what is presumably a safer environment where mistakes have no real world consequences as would be the case in on the job practice. (note that some learners will not find a role play environment safe).
  • Role playing practice can be segmented or divided up in ways that could not be done in real on the job settings. A person can practice a part of the actual skill to be learned until mastery, then another part of it and so on in progressively more complex steps. There can be a great deal of control over the practices.
  • Because role plays can be involving, both in emotional and cognitive ways, they can also be used to help people understand others, and the positions of others. For example, a person can role play a position with which they disagree, to better understand that position.

It should be noted however that role playing does not automatically confer these benefits. It must be implemented properly. Sadly, it's probably the case that in more than half the situations where role playing is used in business training, it's advantages end up limited by trainer inadequacy or a superficial analysis of how to use role playing properly.

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