Successful role-play for online learning

Role-play is something we see children doing everyday, playing and testing the roles they dream to become one day.

For many years, role-play has become an established, very effective way of delivering training. How can something that is usually about face-to-face experience, be successful and effective online?

What is role-play?

Bringing storytelling to life, role-play allows learners to stand in the shoes of another role to create more engaging and memorable learning in a safe environment.

Role-play enables learners to experience realistic examples of practices, behaviours and decision making skills they need to be successful and confident in the role. Realistic scenarios and characters provide a more interactive way to learn rather than the usual classroom based learning. Role-play can also connect knowledge from classroom based learning, to true-to-life simulations.

How can it be used in elearning?


You might be wondering how role-play can be accomplished without other people and online? Well, role-play can be brought to life with interactive videos. Interactive films can be executed and built to provide learners with situations similar to real life.

When creating your videos it is important to consider all of the people and environments in the real life situation. Whether that be other employees, customers, managers, a noisy call centre or a hectic ER. You need to ensure you provide learners with the most realistic situation.

Role-play online is in effect, on demand. For that reason, learners should have the opportunity to change characters to understand both employee and customer needs. Alternatively, allowing learners to ‘try again’ gives them the chance to fill any gaps in their knowledge and correct mistakes.


Remembering that role-play is usually interactive, make sure the learner has some decisions or challenges to face. Multiple choice questions, branching decision points, hotspots or creating a product (dependent on what you want to teach) are all great ways to introduce decisions and challenges.

Interactions are great learning tools, and can be used to give feedback to learners and managers. Feedback and behavioural data provide great insights for learning managers. They provide an understanding of gaps in knowledge for future learning objectives and goals. Additionally, feedback can be help learners understand their choices and identify where improvements are needed.

Through traditional role-play learning, behavioural data and feedback isn’t readily available. Additionally, large, realistic scenarios can be a huge financial ask for some. So, with role-play online being able to test and teach learners with realistic scenarios, decisions, data insights and feedback in a cost-effective way, why wouldn’t you want to integrate it into your learning strategy?

Customer service role-play

Day one combine simulations, peer learning, social learning and scenarios to provide learners with customer service training. Through a desktop system, their ‘eRoleplay’ pairs up learners to allow them to practice customer service conversations.

One learner acts as the customer, and they are provided with information on who they are and why they are calling. Suggestions of what they could say are given, whilst also being able to see how their partner is progressing. Their partner on other hand, only has the simulated desktop and should speak to the ‘customer’ in the most appropriate way to achieve the best outcome.

Ensuring learners and trainers understand any gaps in knowledge, customers get the chance to rate their partner on areas such as soft skills, time management, data entry and screen navigation.

Overall – a feasible and efficient way to train customer service employees in a safe environment.

Healthcare role-play

City, University of London used online role-play as part of their midwifery course, a sector where most would think a face-to-face approach would be best. They wanted to ensure learners had a clear understanding of the ethics surrounding the maternity service, through an online, low cost, interactive, simulated course.

Blended with face-to-face teaching, the course allowed learners to make autonomous clinical decisions as a midwife and to understand service in the users shoes. Working through several midwifery appointments, learners had to deal with tensions which aimed to promote reflection of how experiences can affect both midwife and service user.

The module leader was able to monitor the decisions made – these insights became helpful in face-to-face teaching and discussion groups. Where both conventional and online teaching is needed, this module is a prime example. However, this really shows the impact role-play learning online has; a way to give a great depth of learning and true-to-life experiences prior to qualified practice.

Near-Life™ role-play

Designed for aid workers operating in areas of risk, our learning platform HostileWorld uses role-play learning online to provide courses to practice behaviours, protocols and security challenges. Based around the well established concept of ‘Hostile Environment Awareness Training’ or ‘HEAT’, HostileWorld allows a cost-effective and flexible way for learners to face the same scenarios they would in face-to-face exercises.

Using the innovative Near-Life™ technology, learners are expected to make decisions in a timely manner as they would do working in the field. The technology means learners experience immersive role-play learning through a unique film approach, using real characters and locations.

The learning unfolds as learners make their decisions, showing just how fast things can take a turn in real life. Furthermore, the courses provide behavioural data. This allows both the learner and learning manager the scope to analyse progress and feedback.

With such realistic and relevant scenarios for learners, HostileWorld has given role-play learning online a whole new meaning.

Is role-play learning online the way forward?

Whilst role-play brings a lot of value to learning, it remains an emerging space in elearning. With new technology and learning approaches, role-play online has the scope to immerse learners through video. A way to ensure their experience is realistic as possible.

Aside from cost benefits, digital role-play makes it easier to track and analyse progress. Additionally, digital role-play is easy to repeat in a way that costly, traditional role-play often can’t be.

Role-play in elearning can bring higher engagement and knowledge retention and is now a realistic choice for learning providers. It definitely allows learners a more engaging, realistic and immersive experience than traditional, static content.

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