Everyone knows the purpose of a sales-training role play: to give people an opportunity to practice their skills.

Of course, it isn’t always possible for everyone to get a turn — say, if you have a large group, or you’re conducting remote training via the Web, or you’re creating a recorded session. In those cases, you have to settle for second best: a few practice, while most watch.

Well, not to worry. A recent study offers suggests that “second best” may actually be the better way.

The research
Medical-education researchers set up a 30-minute role-play between a medical student playing a doctor and someone chosen to simulate patient responses. The goal was to elicit information about the “patient’s” medical condition, which required soft skills such as empathy, guiding the conversation, listening for key details, and asking good questions.

In one set of simulations, a medical student conducted the interview while another observed. Then there was a feedback session. Then the participant and observer switched.

The results
At various points in the study, researchers debriefed the students to see what they’d learned.

Those who’d observed the role plays learned more than those who’d performed. They provided more accurate, useful feedback during the debriefing session.

This study opens up new possibilities for sales trainers. For live training, it suggests that you don’t have to use a huge block of your training time just to ensure that everyone gets a turn in the role-play barrel. Nor do you have to break everyone up into two-person groups and spend your time shuttling among the groups to observe and provide feedback. It may be better to have larger groups — say five people — with some performing and others watching and critiquing.

For remote or online training, it means you can stop feeling guilty about your inability to do live, hands-on practice sessions. You may get as much or more impact by showing learners a prerecorded role play or scenario and asking them to analyze it.

In a broader sense, it suggests that trainers take a fresh look at the issue of interactivity in their learning. It’s been an article of faith that interactive learning is more impactful than just sitting back and watching. But this study suggests that the benefits of interactivity as a panacea for learning may be overstated. There’s a place for learning-by-doing, but it’s not always the right option.

Stegman, K. et al. (2012). Vicarious learning during simulations: Is it more effective than hands-on learning? Medical Education 46(10), 1001-8.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *