Playing with feeling and playing to learn

In my last post I talked about the value that can be gained from affective learning methodologies, and the reluctance of some trainers to use such methodologies. One such methodology is the role play, and in this post I will give a brief run through on how to do it well.

Some role plays are very tightly scripted or structured – almost being the acting out of a scenario, or a simulation – and such activities are not intended to, nor are they likely to, achieve any affective based learning.

In order to create learning through the use of the Affective domain, the role play needs to be as unstructured as possible – and even then there is no guarantee it will achieve this. As the title suggests, it needs to involve ‘play’. We first learn to ‘play’ as children – and this generally takes place within very loose parameters, generates feelings and is one of the principle ways for children to develop their understanding of the world around them. Not unlike a good role play!

When I think back to learning events that I have really enjoyed delivering because of the intensity of the learning that has taken place, several involve unstructured or semi-structured role plays. When prepared, delivered and – most importantly – de-briefed effectively, they are an impactive way to improve interpersonal and decision making skills in a safe environment, generating long lasting learning.

Here are some key points to incorporate into your planning if you want to stand the best chance of creating an affective role play.

  • Be clear about why you are choosing the methodology – does it link in to your desired outcomes or objectives?
  • Role plays tend to be most impactive once the group is settled and relatively comfortable with each other.
  • Use volunteers – the more relaxed and willing the participants are, the more likely they are to ‘get into the role’.
  • Use written instructions so that the participants don’t know what the briefs are for each other.
  • Use names that can be for either gender – Sam or Pat for example – so that you can use whoever volunteers.
  • Where you are using an unstructured role, it is important to give the role a person’s name (i.e. Sam). This will make it clear to the person playing the role that their skills are not being assessed by those watching. In order to generate real feelings, they need to understand that they are not being asked to ‘perform’.
  • Give sufficient instructions so that the participants know how to get started, together with the licence to react as they feel fit as the role play unfolds – so you give them a ‘role’, and encourage them to ‘play’.

When might you use one? Well, one example could be in customer service training where you are wanting (1) delegates to be able to explain the potential effect on customers of a particular course of action and (2) to give feedback to a delegate on how he or she deals with a situation they may be faced with in the future.

Your briefing for the employee who will receive feedback on how they deal with a scenario could be that they are required to deal with a customer complaint in the role in which they are employed – in this instance as a Borough Council ‘front desk’ clerk.  The complainant’s brief could be that they are Sam and have neighbours who have had noisy parties for the last three weekends which have stopped Sam from sleeping. As a result Sam has spoken to the neighbour who has said that they will carry on having them, and so Sam wants the Council to address the matter before the weekend. Sam can react as he or she sees fit dependent upon how Sam is dealt with by the clerk.

Having run the role play to its natural conclusion you come to the all important de-brief. Important because you may have generated feelings in individuals and as the instigator (and trainer) you have a responsibility to discuss and give meaning to these. Important because this is where the learning is for all who are present. This is the order in which I would de-brief the scenario – and the order is important for the benefit of all those involved.

  1. Go to ‘Sam’ and ask them what they are feeling / what emotions they have.
  2. Go to Council employee (using real name) and ask the same
  3. Ask if the role play has generated any feelings for the rest of the group, and if so what feelings.
  4. Go to ‘Sam’, and this time using his / her real name, ask why Sam had the feelings described in point 1. Explore what created each of those feelings. (The name change is important here as it starts to take the person out of role).
  5. Using their own names, ask the same questions of the Council clerk and any others from the group.
  6. Points 4 & 5 above have enabled you to extract the affective learning and enabled you to debrief those involved.
  7. You can then debrief the rest of the role play in a similar way to how you might have done if you had used as a case exercise or case study as your methodology. If there are no feelings generated, you would again de-brief in a similar way to a case exercise.  
  8. Ensure the group has taken all the learning from the scenario.

That’s my 5 minute guide to running and de-briefing a role play with the intention of incorporating the Affective domain of learning. Did it make sense? If not, or you need more information, please get in touch.

Paul

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