Learning Strategy: Role Play and Simulation


"'Role-Switch' [is] a model overtly used [to help] students learn from the inside out, i.e., to understand the actions of either people or things through taking on the role of being this other person or object." (Rao & Stupans, 2012, p. 427). This focuses on developing practical skills in simulated real-life situations. Role play assists students in learning communication skills, rather than didactic methods of knowledge acquisition (Aspegren, 1999: O'Brien et. al., 2007). Role play has helped 'enhance active listening skills, social problem solving skills and demonstration of emotional empathy'" (Rao & Stupans, 2012, p. 428).

"Role play is considered to be effective in achieving a broad range of learning outcomes and indeed able to address cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains of learning as described in Bloom's Taxonomy" (Rao & Stupans, 2012, p. 428).

Bloom's Taxonomy Pyramid - Create, Evaluate, Analyze, Apply, Understand, Remember

Role play aids in lending insight to complex leadership situations, helps aid in understanding from various perspectives, creates a collective understanding of different scenarios, and establishes a sense of community (Planander, Urika, 2013). It often helps students better absorb and retain information as opposed to traditional lecture style trainings, while engaging with a variety of learning styles. Role play has also been associated with producing increased listening, thoughtfulness and creativity throughout perspective taking opportunities (Planander, Ulrika, 2013). Role plays invites an environment for engaged students, multiple perspective taking moments, multiple solutions, quality conversations, community development, and is cited as a fun opportunity for educational knowledge acquisition.

Key Elements

  • Motivation
  • Attention
  • Relevance
  • Confidence (active involvement)
  • Verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Approach ideas from multiple lenses
  • Purpose of role play
  • Type of role play (assessable or formative)
  • Length of role play
  • Framing of role play
  • Structure or lack of structure
    • E.g., defined roles in activity can lend to success of role play
  • Information given before and during the role play
  • Scenario is as close to real life as possible
  • Rotate groups to avoid reinforcing bad habits/diversify learning
  • Supervision of role play

Resources for using this strategy

Typology Description Example Learning Domain Caution Potential Benefits
Role Switch Learn from inside out Computer technology (USD - Clery Training) Cognitive (knowledge) Needs to be well set up; detail the goal and what is required of participants Ability to switch your position and see things from another point of view
Acting Playing/exploring a scenario Outdoor education (USD - OA Trainers) Affective (attitude) and psychomotor domains (skills) There is the potential for 'acting' as opposed to practicing professional skills Safe environment to practice skills and reflect on the learning
Almost Real Life Using real life experiences Occupational therapy (USD - R.J.) Cognitive (knowledge), affective (attitude) and psychomotor (skills) Risky topics; requires sensitivity; trust; follow up care Move toward counseling style session to develop self. Experiential learning to reinforce gained exp.

Examples at USD

  • HR Title IX
    • Clery Training/Kognito Training (Role Switch)
  • Language Matters
    • Approach ideas from multiple lenses (Role Switch)
  • Student Leaders Trainings
    • RA Training Behind Closed Doors (Acting & Real Life)
  • Outdoor Adventures
    • Guide Training (Acting & Real Life)
  • SA program
    • Peer facilitation
  • Career Center
    • Practice role play interviews (Acting)


Rao, D. & Stupans, I. (2012). Exploring the potential of role play in higher education: development of a typology and teacher guidelines. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 49(4), 427-436.

Planander, Ulrika (2013). Role-play as a pedagogical method to prepare students for practice: The students' voice. Högre utblidning, 3(3), 199-210.

Rev. 6/23/17

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