How can you provide a safe classroom environment where students can practice skills that will help them excel in their professional roles? Or where they can learn how to approach real-world scenarios with confidence? Bill Wynne, professor in the College of Business and Economics’ Department of Marketing, uses role-playing to provide that environment in his courses. The student’s skills are developed through a combination of reading, videos, preparation exercises and a scaffolded role-playing assignment with fellow classmates.
“Role-playing is a higher engagement activity in higher education because it requires learners to actively engage with course material in a meaningful way. The students will be taking on specific roles or characters and acting out scenarios or situations that relate to course concepts, ideas or issues” (ChatGPT, personal communication, March 15, 2023). (Jones, 2002; Rashid & Qaisar, 2017)
In Wynne’s course, RHM/MKTG 323 Resort Sales and Marketing, the activity focuses on executing the various steps in a sales call based on a hypothetical case study. “It is not going to be just about making the sale,” assures Wynne. Throughout the various exercises, the students will develop skills such as rapport building, information seeking and digging for client problems, issues, or opportunities where they can provide solutions. Students will also practice demonstrating value through the features and benefits of what they have to offer.
In the hospitality industry, the sales and marketing professional plays a crucial role in promoting their lodging property or restaurant. In order to be successful in this industry, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of marketing and sales. Professionals should also have the confidence and skills to engage in conversation with potential customers.
Learning Sales Skills through Interaction and Collaboration
By participating in role-playing, students have to think critically and creatively, make decisions and apply their knowledge in realistic, real-time and relevant contexts.
Implementing a role-playing assignment into your course can also increase learner engagement by promoting social interaction and collaboration. Traditionally, role-playing consists of two students who interact with each other. Wynne’s approach to this learning element is different. In his course, the groups consist of four students and, within each group, all four students will perform two role-plays: one as a seller and one as a prospective buyer. They have to collaborate and determine who will be the first two sellers and buyers and who will be the final sellers and buyers. Once they have determined their first and second pairings, they also have to schedule the times they can meet on Zoom to record their two role play sessions prior to the due date.
“This provides a great opportunity to practice their communication and teamwork skills which are essential for success in many professional fields, not just hospitality,” says Wynne.
Role-playing assignments also help students develop listening skills and creative problem-solving skills. To prepare for their role plays, students study the scenario and create a set of questions to ask their counterparts based on the steps in a sales call. These steps are individually presented and discussed throughout the course, providing the student with sufficient materials to complete the questions. Each student will create a list of questions in their meeting with the buyer, but they also have to think about how they can naturally build rapport while collecting data about, for example, the decision-making process.
Once they have their list together, they are asked to add at least two possible responses that might be given to each question, which prepares them for creative problem-solving and quick decision making — especially because they don’t know what their counterparts have prepared. It also prepares them for their role as a buyer. They should conclude the call by gaining commitment for specific next steps with the buyer or seller.
A Safe Environment to Practice and Experiment
The final assessment will be a recorded video of the role-playing interaction between two students, from beginning to end, walking through the different steps of the sales call. “Not everybody approaches the process in the same way, so it provides opportunities to practice new methods or try something innovative out and see how their peers respond,” according to Wynne. He prefers a larger group of students to work together as it provides more viewpoints and holds them accountable to each other. It also helps them avoid being in the same buyer/seller pair as they role-play.
“Role-playing can provide a safe and low-risk environment for learners to experiment with new ideas or perspectives. Learners can explore different viewpoints, test out hypotheses and receive feedback from peers and instructors in a supportive and non-judgmental setting” (ChatGPT, personal communication, March 15, 2023). (Jones, 2002; Rashid & Qaisar, 2017)
The question lists that the students build, based on each step in the sales process, is first submitted to the instructor for review and guidance. They are then put to the test by the students in their role-playing practice. As each student has prepared different questions and possible answers, the outcome will be different each time, allowing the student to experiment with unique sales situations and learn how to respond to them. “Any made up or fabricated information used in the assignment needs to be reasonable and within the spirit of the assignment,” concludes Wynne.
Overall, role-play can be a highly engaging and effective learning activity in higher education, as it encourages learners to actively engage with course material, collaborate with peers, and develop critical thinking and communication skills that are essential for success in academic and professional contexts.
- Interactivity in Online Learning
- The Students’ Guide to Learning Design and Research
- Use Role-plays and Case Studies in the Classroom
For help designing role-playing assignments that fit within the objectives for your course, contact eCampus Center and request a consultation.
Thanks to Bill Wynne and Nicole Holten Baird, the eCampus instructional design consultant who worked with Wynne to design the RHM/MKTG 323 course.
*ChatGPT was consulted by Nicole to create the generic role-play statements in this article. These statements were verified and supported through independent research of the literature. Citations were added by Nicole to support the text written by ChatGPT.
OpenAI. (2023). ChatGPT (Mar 14 version) [Large language model]. https://chat.openai.com/chat
Jones, S. (2007). Adding value to online role-plays: Virtual situated learning environments. In ICT: Providing choices for learners and learning. Proceedings of Ascilite Singapore 2007. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/singapore07/procs/jones-s.pdf
Rashid, S. & Qaisar, S. (2017). Role play: A productive teaching strategy to promote critical thinking. Bulletin of Education and Research, 19(2), 197-213.