Here are four ways to make role plays in virtual worlds more
effective than role plays in the real world.
As training professionals are forced to move education from the
'front of the classroom' to online, they have discovered many
challenges. How do you keep participants attentive in webinars? How
do you create 'live' role play scenarios when participants are
using asynchronous courseware? How do you observe and coach
participants when they are a thousand miles away from you?
The good news is that by using virtual world 3D technology, such as
the Second Life platform, workplace learning professionals not only
can improve the educational content, they can actually improve the
experience of participants in role plays conducted live in the
Before exploring the four reasons role plays are more effective in
a virtual as opposed to a traditional classroom setting, let's all
admit one thing: Participant's in seminars typically dread hearing
the following phrase, "It is time to for a role play exercise."
To be sure, role plays can be effective in practicing work skills,
participants often find it uncomfortable and unrealistic. Too often
role plays start off with participants rolling their eyes and
conclude with participants talking about what they'll be doing to
after work rather than what skills they just used.
While participants performing role plays in virtual worlds may have
similar issues, there are four reasons why virtual role plays may
be more effective than their classroom counterparts.
Less 'goofing off'
In classroom role plays, there is always the chance that someone
decides the exercise gives them the chance to hone their skills as
a stand-up comedian. They take every chance to crack jokes - at the
expense of realism and effectiveness of the role play.
Virtual role plays address this issue because real life names and
titles can be hidden. As a result, participants may not know with
whom they are role playing. They will be less likely to goof off
because it could be the manager sitting across from them rather
than their buddy. Comedy takes a back seat to skill building.
In a traditional classroom role play session, facilitators are
caught in a dilemma. Should they stop the role play when a
participant makes a mistake? If yes, the benefit is instant
feedback. But the drawback is that the entire flow of the role play
is disrupted. More important, making a critique at this point can
potentially lead to defensive reactions from participants: "I was
just about to say that"
On the other hand, waiting until the end of the role play to make
your comments will maintain flow of the situation, but you may not
be able to be as precise in your feedback as you would have been if
you were able to make the comment in the moment. Virtual role plays
can address this dilemma because the role play can be recorded and
played back immediately. As a result, facilitators can allow the
role play to flow, but be able to point out exact areas for
discussion while reviewing the recording.
It is counter-intuitive to think that a virtual role play can be
more realistic than its classroom counterpart, but there are ways
of using the environment to mimic the exact situations a
participant may face in the real world. For instance,
pharmaceutical sales reps typically do role plays in a classroom
setting with one of them playing the sales rep and one the doctor.
The problem is that pharmaceutical representatives spend as much
time in the real world with other medical and administrative staff
than they do with the doctor. A virtual medical office can be
designed where the rep will interact with several people in order
to decode clues like a busier than usual waiting room or a new golf
photo on the doctor's desk.
Also, when participants play a role as an avatar, they tend to
assume that role. For instance, in a simulation for border control
officers, participants who wore uniforms sat straighter in their
chairs than participants who played civilians. Conversely, because
the doctor in the virtual role play is wearing a lab coat (as
opposed to a company logo polo shirt), both the doctor and the
representative will behave differently. While these clues may seem
insignificant, they provide a more realistic environment that the
reps face on a daily basis. And the more realistic a role play, the
more likely skills used in that role play will be transferred to
the real world.
One challenge presented when people participate in asynchronous
game-based simulations is that the pre-programmed fact pattern,
choices, and responses do not ring true with participants. While
these online simulations can recreate the physical environment
created by the virtual world simulation, it fails to recreate the
dynamic interaction provided by role plays conducted by real people
in virtual worlds.
In a game-based simulation, the outcomes are set by someone who
programs the role play. In virtual world role plays every avatar
has a real life person behind it, so the scenarios play out just as
they would in the real world. Also, virtual role plays allow for
multiple participants, enabling groups to interact, brainstorm, and
collaborate - just as they would in the real world.
While using virtual role playing seems foreign to many workplace
learning professionals, we only need to look at the next generation
of workers to understand what the future holds. For example, the
U.S. military is starting to recruit soldiers who excel at playing
the online virtual game World of Warcraft. They feel that recruits
who perform well in this virtual world role playing game, will
perform well on the battlefield. In short, if doing role plays in
virtual worlds are good enough to train soldiers in life or death
situations, then they can likely help your workers.
Mark Jankowski is cofounder of Shapiro
Negotiations Institute; firstname.lastname@example.org.