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Scenario Based Training: The Use of Role Playing
By Dr. Susan Jones
Published: 03/25/2019

Prisonyard The use of role playing in corrections training is nothing new. This type of learning approach has been around since the early days of correctional training. The idea that students can learn by practicing their responses to a particular scenario has a great deal of merit. However, when asked, most people will tell you that they dislike participating in role playing because it can be stressful to get up in front of other students and try to apply what they have been taught. Instructors may also be hesitant to use this type of approach because it takes more time than a traditional lecture delivery. As a result, role playing may be getting a bad “rap” or may be avoided in training (even if it is part of the curriculum).

The goal of role play scenarios in training can be misunderstood by the participants and even some of the instructors. I was once told that we were doing role play scenarios just to fill time or it was only for when we were running ahead of the schedule. Others believe that role playing gives the instructor a break from teaching. Neither of these two explanations are accurate. The fact is that role playing can be a great way to help students master skills, particularly skills needed to handle situations that require the use of discretion. However, using a role-playing scenario requires more skill and preparation on the part of the instructor.

Role playing does take more time than lecture and the role of the instructor is critical. The role play scenario must be planned, documented, and delivered with key instructional objectives in mind. When instructors “make up” a scenario for immediate use the effectiveness of the training suffers. Furthermore, the “answer” to the role play must be included in the curriculum and documented effectively. The absence of this type of documentation does a disservice to the consistency of the training. If each instructor has a different idea about the “correct” way to respond to the scenario then the message delivered to support the training objectives may be confusing and may even be wrong.

During any scenario the instructors must be present and engaged in student learning. I have witnessed instances where one of the two instructors will actually leave the room during this part of training to attend to other matters. The fact is that any type of scenario practice takes more instructor presence, not less. It is best to have at least two instructors watching and providing feedback to all players in the role play scenario in order to gain full advantage of the technique. The leadership needed to create appropriate role play scenarios and then to implement them is something that is often overlooked. The instructor must be in control of the entire process to ensure that the training objectives are met. The instructor must also be prepared to model the expected ethical and practical actions that are needed to successfully complete the scenario.

The role of the audience (other students) is also a critical feature of this type of training approach. Asking other students what they thought of the responses to the scenario is a good way to gauge the message received by the entire class and to provide possible other options to the solution. In fact, this type of approach may be one of the best ways to evaluate the students understanding of the material. The type of skills displayed by participants can give the instructor immediate feedback regarding the understanding of the course material. The use of role playing in corrections training should not be an after thought or used as filler. In fact, the use of planned and well-thought-out role-playing scenarios is an approach that can lay a great foundation for learning and practice of skills. Role playing deserves our attention to the many advantages that it can offer to corrections training curriculum.

Dr. Susan Jones retired from a warden’s position within the Colorado Department of Corrections. She worked in a variety of corrections positions in Colorado for 31 years, including: community corrections, correctional officer, sergeant, lieutenant, manager, associate warden and warden. Dr. Jones research interests have focused on the issues that correctional employees face on a daily basis. Visit Dr. Jones's Facebook page "A Glimpse Behind the Fence".


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