The Art of Role Playing in Virtual Training

Here’s the thing about role playing as a training exercise: trainers tend to love it, but participants tend to hate it. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. When implemented correctly, role playing can be an effective and memorable learning experience. The key word in that last sentence is “correctly.” Once you know the do’s and the don’ts of the art that is role play, you can make it an engaging part of your virtual training that participants will learn to enjoy and look forward to, rather than dread.

What is role play?

Role play requires participants to perform a task in a simulated but realistic scenario such as they might encounter in their real work environment. As the name implies, each participant takes on a role in that scenario. They might play themselves to show how they would react or behave in a certain situation, or they might play a fictitious character who would otherwise be involved in it.

Why do we role play?

Role play has three main purposes:

  • To help trainees think ahead and anticipate solutions to problems
  • To teach trainees a particular skill or ability
  • To assess trainees’ understanding about a particular point or issue

The ‘Do’s’ of Role Playing

Again, the key to the art of role playing in virtual training is to know the do’s and don’ts. Let’s start with the do’s.


  • Have and communicate a clear objective – Use role-playing judiciously, when you know it will serve a purpose. Make sure you let participants know why you are incorporating the activity and communicate what the outcome should be.
  • Set expectations – Your participants will be more comfortable if you make it clear that you don’t expect Oscar-worthy performances. At the same time, you should set the expectation that they are to take the activity seriously. It’s okay to have fun; it’s not okay for the experience to degenerate into antics and unproductive hilarity.
  • Plan them in advance – Like every aspect of training, role playing scenarios should be well thought-out and prepared.
  • Make them realistic – There’s little value in having people participate in outlandish, hyperbolic scenarios or testing their skills in areas where they are not properly trained or prepared.
  • Review – Talk about it. What went well? What could have gone better? Focus on the content, not the performance.


  • Spring it on them – Let your learners know what’s coming, so they can mentally prepare for it. It’s always a great idea to have an agenda for any training meeting — the role-playing aspect of the day shouldn’t be a surprise.
  • Force participation – Observers can learn as much from a role playing experience as participants do. Sure, “all the world’s a stage,” but some people really don’t like to perform. Don’t involve unwilling session members.

Role playing is just one of the many ways to promote engagement in your virtual training. Jigsaw Interactive has all the tools and ideas you need to perfect this art and make it an enjoyable and useful part of your online training repertoire.