Yes everyone hates role playing ….. and

I just read this post Everyone Hates Role Playing by Frank Roche.

Frank suggests that as everyone hates role playing, trainers should forget experiential learning as a way of embedding the learning points all together and try teaching instead! He goes on to argue that people learn from teaching, and visual learners learn from books. What do you think?

I disagree with Frank’s view of how people learn. We learn mostly from experience and reflection. I have yet to see a baby pick up a book in order to learn how to walk! They try it, fall over, try it again, and again until they have mastered it. In work, studies show that people learn from experience (70%) role models (20%) and books and courses (10%)(Centre for Creative Leadership)

As a trainer I leverage this by using work related experiences, examples and stories and follow the training up with work based learning opportunities such as projects, experiments and tasks.

As far as role play goes, I want to distinguish between role play (acting – not good) and real play (real life scenario’s – good) Employees may also hate the idea of real play but we never learn to do anything differently without stepping out of our comfort zone. My job as the trainer is to make this step as safe as possible. I hate exercise but that’s not a valide reason to avoid it.

I’d love your views:

Have you been on a training programme which used role play or real play?
How have you learned to be the manager you are?

2 Responses to Yes everyone hates role playing ….. and

  • Hi there

    I'm a bit late to this post!

    Just some thoughts of my own:

    I'm not a fan of role playing. I'll do it if it's absolutely necessary (i.e you won't 'pass' a course/training day if you don't) but it makes me extremely uncomfortable, especially if it's in a group of strangers.

    I do get your point about how children learn, but a baby/toddler learning to walk generally gets to start this learning process off in the comfort of his/her own home, with familiar faces around and at a slow pace encompassing wriggling, crawling, and finally walking. The first walking experience is rarely tried, learnt and mastered in one session in a room full of nervous strangers.

    I think trainers can often be very 'gung-ho' about role playing and don't take into consideration the make-up of the group (Close colleagues? Strangers? Minions and bosses?), nor the personalities of individuals, who may not all be natural extroverts.

    Children learning to walk are (mainly) praised for trying even if they fail. This is the case even if child 1 tries and fails and child 2 tries and succeeds. In the adult world, especially in business situations, trying and failing is seen quite differently. Failing or the prospect of failing in front of your peers and/or employers can be an extremely stressful situation. Even with a great trainer who will praise for trying, that might not be the peer reaction 'back in the office' from others on the course.

    It would be nice to think that all trainers create a welcoming, supportive atmosphere, where individuals feel comfortable enough to push their boundaries and can give their all to the benefits of taking part in role play. In reality, social conventions and expectations, presence of peers (who may or may not be friendly) and bosses and, of course, the time constraints and buyer expectations the trainer is working to can often mean the benefits of the role play experience are lost on the role players.

    Good role play/real play – wonderful. It's just that I see that so rarely, my default assumption is that it will be dreadful for all concerned.

    Best regards


  • Hi Julie,

    When I know that I am going to train a group that is resistant to role plays, I use case studies based on real problems in the workplace. Participants are given a scenario to read and are asked to either collaborate with others or individually write a response. Sometimes I even ask for responses to the response. It gets everyone talking.

    I've received great feedback on this technique as no one has to "act".

    Dee Knapp, President
    Accord & Collaboration Dispute Resolution Services

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