MET:Simulation Strategies

From UBC Wiki

Role Play as a Type of Simulation Strategy

Role play.jpg

Role play is a well established and effective learning strategy in face-to-face education and training. [1,5,9] Role play has traditionally been employed to help facilitate learning in a range of different settings, and in situations where students are building knowledge, as well as utilizing problem solving and interpersonal skills. Role playing involves learners assuming the roles of characters in pre-determined scenarios. The scenarios are typically complex, and have multiple possible resolutions. [5,11] In a business context, for example, learners may be asked to assume a management role, and develop problem solving related to a business issue, or communication skills related to giving an employee feedback. In a health context, a scenario may include a nursing student practicing communication skills with patients.

With the growth of online training and education, educators are finding creative ways to integrate technology into role playing to develop engaging and immersive learning experiences. In online learning, role play is classified as one type of highly participatory simulation strategy, which involves authentic scenarios. [1,4,5] See the following video clip as an example of role playing in a face-to-face setting. The clip also includes tips for successful role play, which may be applied to web-based role play.


Asynchronous and Synchronous Role Play Simulations

In web-based role play, the activity may be organized using synchronous or asynchronous

web-based roleplay

technologies. Synchronous forms of role play may involve voice over internet protocol (VOIP), virtual worlds, chat rooms, or instant messaging. The distinguishing feature of synchronous role play scenarios is that participants are all present and communicating at the same time. [12]

Asynchronous forms of communication include message boards, forums, email, and text messaging. In asynchronous communication, involved parties do not have to be in the same area or participating at the same time. [5]

Role playing may be episodic (i.e. occurring during one class), or spread out over a period of time, giving participants an opportunity to reflect and respond. Alternatively, synchronous and asynchronous methods may be blended. For example, students may engage in one episode of role play in a chat room, and later follow up to a discussion board forum to post their reflections or alternative responses. [3]

Challenges of Role Play Simulation

  • Simulations include the risk of technological problems, which can inhibit participation and disrupt activities.
  • While some authors suggest that online role plays may be less anxiety provoking than live role plays, anxiety may be still be present for some participants. [13]
  • A significant challenge of web-based role play, particularly when with regard to interpersonal skill development, is that the physical dimension (facial expression or gestures) of human interaction is missing. [3]

Stop Motion Video


  • Lee, K. S., & Thue, M. I. (2017). Teaching the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to Legal and Ethical Environment of Business Undergraduate Students Through a Role-Play Experiential Learning Exercise. Journal of Legal Studies Education, 34(2), 207-240. doi:10.1111/jlse.12061
  • Wang, J., Hu, X., & Xi, J. (2012). Cooperative learning with role play in Chinese pharmacology education. Indian Journal of Pharmacology, 44(2), 253. Retrieved from
  • Mariais, C., Michau, F., & Pernin, J. (2011). A Description Grid to Support the Design of Learning Role-Play Games. Simulation & Gaming, 43(1), 23-33. doi:10.1177/1046878110390764
  • Binder, J. (2013). Primary care interviewing: learning through role play. New York: Springer.
  • Vogel, J., Vogal, D., Cannon-Bowers, J., Bowers, C., Muse, K., & Wright, M. (2006). Computer Gaming and Interactive Simulations for Learning: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 34(3), 229-243. Retrieved from

Benefits of Role Play Simulation

  • Role play is an active learning strategy, which can foster a high degree of engagement and immersion. [10]
  • Role plays can build on a student’s experience and create scenarios which are true to life. [6,8]
  • Web-based role plays can reduce risk of damage, and allow for practice in situations which would be difficult to replicate in face-to-face settings. For example, students may practice encountering another person who displays aggressive behaviour. [2]
  • Some researchers have suggested online role playing is less anxiety provoking than face-to-face situations, and that consequently, web-based role plays invite more participation from a greater number of students. [1,7,9]
  • Role plays can be performed anonymously or openly, with benefits either way. [2] Anonymity may help students to give more direct feedback to their peers. Having an open role play may mitigate potential for antisocial behaviour.
  • Some researchers and educators suggest that role play is particularly effective in the development of attitudes with students, as it usually requires them to take different perspectives on a situation. [4]
  • Interactions can be spaced to allow learners time to reflect on their responses, or to plan for future actions.
  • Extra time for reflection and response may be a boon for students who are shy, or have linguistic issues.
  • Web-based role playing may be less expensive than other types of simulation strategies, since they can be done in the form of email, threaded discussion, or instant messaging.


1. Bender, T. (2005) Role playing in online education: a teaching tool to enhance student engagement and sustained learning. Innovate. 1(4),251-260. Retrieved from

2. Bell, M. (2001) Online role-play: anonymity, engagement and risk. Education Media International. 38(4), 251-260.

3. Bos, N. & Shami, N. (2006) Adapting a face-to-face role-playing simulation for online play. Educational Technology Research & Development, 54(5), 493-521.

4. Dekkers, J. & Donatti, S. (1981) The integration of research studies on the the use of simulation as an instructional strategy. The Journal of Educational Research. 74(6), 424-427.

5. Freeman, M. & Capper, J. (1999) Exploiting the web for education: an anonymous asynchronous role simulation. Australian Journal of Educational Technology. 15(1), 95-116.

6. Gropelli, T. (2010) Using Active Simulation to Enhance learning in nursing ethics. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing. 41(3), 104-105.

7. Grubor, J. & Hinic, D.(2010) Extroversion: a factor influencing enjoyment in a role play in EFL students? The New Educational Review. 20(10), 295-305.

8. Lee, C. & Lamp, J. (2003) On the lighter side…The use of humor and role-playing in reinforcing key concepts. Nurse Educator. 28(2), 61-62.

9. Ladhani, Z., Chhatwal, J., Vyas, R., Iqbal, M., Tan, C. & Diserens, D. (2011) Online role-playing for faculty development. The Clinical Teacher. 8, 31-36.

10. Murphy, K. & Gazi, Y. (2001) Role plays, panel discussions, and simulations: Project-based learning in a web-based course. Education Media international. 38(4)

11. Russell, C. & Shepherd, J. (2010) Online role-play environments for higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology. 41(6), 992-1002

12. Walker, V. & Rockinson-Szapkiw, A. (2009) Educational opportunities for clinical counselling simulations in second life. Innovate. 5(5) Retrieved from:

13. Walker, V. (2009) “Pedagogy, Education and innovation in 3-D virtual worlds”. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research. 2(1).