What are the disadvantages and/or misuses of roleplaying?

While role playing is a powerful instructional technique, often it is misused by trainers or trainers use it without considering that it also may have drawbacks or disadvantages. Here are some things trainers should know about the use of role plays.

  • The power of role playing is only harnessed when the role player receives EXPERT feedback. Inexpert feedback or feedback from group members who are at the same level of competence as the role player is often useless, and does not further learning. Unfortunately, most role plays in training sessions are done in small groups, and most feedback given by other, less than competent group members.
  • While trainers may like role plays, many people who attend training actually hate them and feel exceedingly uncomfortable in roleplay situations. This does not necessarily mean that people who hate them cannot benefit by them, but trainers need to consider the tradeoffs between the use of role plays and the discomfort and anxiety they create.
  • The role playing of highly emotionally charged situations tends to be less effective in large groups, since the role playing tends to take on the characteristic of acting performances, or, the performance becomes too artificial and sounds funny. It's hard, for example, for learners to pretend to be very angry without going over the top or starting to giggle. This is less of a concern in therapeutic settings, but is a factor in training.
  • Almost every use of roleplaying in large group training sessions involves extreme compromise, often to the extent that learning does not occur, or is interfered with. That's because role playing works best when there is sufficient time to prepare people for the role play, do the actual role play, provide expert feedback, and do any debriefs. Most larger group sessions involve roleplaying that goes basically "out of control" of the trainer, since the trainer cannot monitoring constantly, or be the source of expert feedback.

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