You're attending a training and everything is going great until the instructor announces that everyone will be divided up in pairs, given a scenario, and asked to act out the scenario in front of the class. Your heart begins to race and your face feels flushed. You are about to be in front of the room with everyone staring at you, judging you. But you participate anyway because, realistically, do you have an option?
Even as an extrovert I hate role playing during a training, so I can only imagine how introverts must feel. Most trainer rave about the usefulness of role playing but here are my top reasons why the role playing method is a bad idea (based on Kirkpatrick's Four Levels of Evaluation for training) and what you should do instead.
1. Reactions - As the scenario above describes, most people fear role play. There is something nail biting about not knowing what to expect and, worst of all, being judged on your performance. There is a lot of pressure to be perfect in a situation that is supposed to be supportive When preparing your training, you have to consider people's reactions to both the content and the delivery. If trainees spend a good portion of time being fearful about their performance, you can bet they are not having a positive reaction.
2. Learning - It also stands to reason that if the trainee is concentrating on his own fear then that is time not spent on learning. The whole purpose of training is knowledge retention. I have to admit that my previous experiences participating in roleplaying have stuck out to me - but not like you think. While I remember my responses, I can't recall feedback (if I received any) or my fellow trainees' performances. I didn't retain everything I could have because I was emotionally wrapped up in the fear of my having to perform.
3. Behavior - In researching the subject of role playing and its effects on training, I wasn't surprised when I found that retention rates for role playing are around 75%. So why am I so against it? Because immediate use of knowledge yields an even higher percentage of 90% and that is precisely Kirkpatrick's Third Level of Evaluation. Training becomes null and void if participants do not use what they've learned on the job. Basically, time should be spent by the trainer on follow up rather than preparing role playing scenarios (which never seem to be realistic depictions.) According to the article Engaging Learners: Techniques to Make Training Stick by Fred E. Fanning, preparation for role playing can take 5-6 hours for every 1 hour of instruction as opposed to the normal 1-2 hours preparation. Because there are other great training methods, time can be better spent on employing other methods and following up to get maximum retention results.
4. Results - Following through with the first three levels should produce the results you want to see in your organization and, hopefully, you got there without having to do much role playing. In my last post, All Trainings Are Not Created Equally, I gave several examples of different training models. In reality, there are an infinite number of creative ways to make training stick and it is important to pair the perfect training model and training topic together.
If you find that role playing is an absolute must, I recommend altering the concept to maximize time constraints and prevent moaning and groaning from participants. Break into groups of three (1 customer, 1 employee, and 1 observer to offer feedback) and practice role playing scenarios between the three trainees. In the intimate setting, people will be more relaxed and able to take in feedback from their fellow trainees. You can rotate people in and out of the groups so that everyone has a chance to be one of the three roles. By taking the fear out of performing, you increase the likelihood that participants will remember what they learned.
Using a combination of visual aids, video, and discussions can function as well as role playing can. The ultimate goal here, however, is in the follow-up. Following up with trainees once they have returned to their normal work routine is the optimal time to observe their new learned behavior and see it in action. Offer one-on-one coaching sessions to help them follow through. Your trainee may even want to do role playing scenarios now that the audience has been taken out of the mix. However you follow up your training, seeing it through to the end will get you closer to that 100% retention rate all trainers strive for.