By Mark Jankowski, Co-Founder, Shapiro Negotiations Institute
As training professionals are forced to move education from “front of the classroom” training to online training, they have discovered many challenges. How do you keep participant attention in Webinars? How do you create “live” role-play scenarios when participants are taking asynchronous training? How do you observe and coach participants when they are a thousand miles away from you?
The good news is that by using virtual world 3-D technology, such as VirtualU, VenueGen, and Second Life, training professionals not only can improve on the Webinar experience, they can improve on the experience of participants in role plays conducted live in the classroom. In these 3-D virtual environments, participants are represented by an avatar, and in a role play, they would be dealing with another live person, who is being represented by an avatar. The encounter would be live, but rather than a face-to-face meeting, it would be an avatar-to-avatar meeting. While it sounds like science fiction at first, there are reasons why this type of 3-D virtual role playing may one day be better than even live classroom role playing.
Before we discuss the four reasons role plays are more effective in a virtual as opposed to a classroom setting, let’s all admit one thing: Participants in seminars typically dread hearing the following phrase: “It is time to do a role play.” While role playing to practice skills being taught in the classroom is vital, participants often find it uncomfortable and unrealistic. Too often these role plays start off with a “roll of the eyes” and end up with participants talking about what bar they are going to go to rather than what skills they just used.
While participants doing role plays in virtual worlds may have similar issues, there are four reasons virtual role plays may be more effective than their classroom counterparts.
1. Less “goofing off.” In classroom role plays, there is always the chance that someone decides the role play gives them the chance to try to become Robin Williams. They take every chance they get during the role play to crack a joke at the expense of the realism and effectiveness of the role play. Virtual role plays address this issue, because real-life names and titles can be hidden. Therefore, participants may not know with whom they are role playing. Therefore, they will be less likely to “goof off” because it could be the manager sitting across from them rather than their drinking buddy. Comedy then takes a back seat to skill building.
2. Improved feedback. In a classroom role-play session, facilitators are caught in a dilemma. Should they stop the role play when a participant makes a mistake? The benefit is instant feedback, but the drawback is that the entire flow of the role play is stopped. Making a critique at this point often leads the potentially defensive participant to say, “I was just about to say that…” On the other hand, if you wait until the end of the role play to make your comments, you have maintained the flow of the situation, but you may not be able to be as precise in your feedback as you would have been if you were able to make the comment in the moment. Virtual role plays can address this dilemma because the role play can be recorded and played back immediately. As a result, facilitators can allow the role play to flow, but be able to point out exactly what participants did when reviewing the recording.
3. Increased realism. It is counterintuitive to think a virtual role play can be more realistic than its classroom counterpart, but there are ways of using the environment to mimic the exact situations a participant may face in the real world. For instance, pharmaceutical reps typically do role plays in a classroom setting with one of them playing the rep and one the doctor. The problem is that a pharmaceutical representative spends as much time in the real world with others in the office than he/she does in front of the doctor. A virtual doctor’s office, therefore, can be set up where the rep will interact with several people in the office and be able to pick up on “clues” such as a busier-than-usual waiting room or a new golf photo on the doctor’s desk. Also, when participants play a role as an avatar, they tend to assume that role. For instance, in a simulation where border control officers were being trained, those participants who wore uniforms sat straighter in their chairs than participants who played civilians. Conversely, the fact that the doctor in the virtual role play will be wearing a lab coat (as opposed to a companied logo polo shirt), both the doctor and the representative will behave differently. While these clues may seem insignificant, they provide a more realistic environment that these reps face on a daily basis. And it is commonly known that the more realistic a role play, the more likely skills used in that role play will be transferred to the real world.
4. Dynamic scenarios. One challenge presented when people participate in asynchronous game-based simulations is that the pre-programmed fact pattern, choices, and responses do not ring true with participants. While these CD-based or online simulations recreate the physical environment created by the virtual world simulation, they fail to recreate the dynamic interaction provided by role plays that are being conducted by real people in virtual worlds. In a game-based simulation, the outcomes are set by someone who programs the role play. In virtual world role plays, because every avatar has a real-life person behind it, the scenarios play out just as they would in the real world. Also, since they allow for multiple participants, there is the opportunity for groups to interact, brainstorm, and collaborate, just as they would in the real world.
While using virtual role playing seems foreign to many training professionals, we only need to look at our children to understand what the future holds. The military is starting to recruit people who excel at playing the online virtual game, World of Warcraft. They feel that people who perform well in this virtual world role-playing game will perform well when they get onto the battlefield. In short, if role playing in virtual worlds is good enough to train soldiers in life-or-death situations, then they probably can help your salespeople in their next client interaction.
Mark Jankowski co-founded Shapiro Negotiations Institute (SNI) in 1995 and has written two books on negotiation, “The Power of Nice: How to Negotiate So Everyone Wins—Especially You!” and “Bullies, Tyrants & Impossible People: How To Beat Them Without Joining Them,” which have formed the basis for SNI’s Negotiation, Influencing, Conflict Management, and Relationship Equity training programs. As a result of SNI’s corporate clients asking for innovative ways to deliver distance learning, in 2008, Jankowski developed a separate division of SNI called Virtual Training Partners. Over the last three years, Jankowski has come to be considered an expert in the application of virtual technology for training and development of employees around the globe.