Research Article 6

Towards a theory & framework of professional role play: A thematic analysis of a management development workshop that harnesses the skills of a professional role play actor. 

Stephen Cornes

University of Warwick


My research examined a business learning workshop that used a professional role play (PRP) actor as a key element in developing client facing behavioural skills. My research focused on the three specific areas of: (1) tools and techniques the professional actor employs (1); framework the actor used to manage learning during a role play (2); the learning of the participants (3). This paper is a distillation of my thesis and details the research process and the outcomes identified. I gathered data by reviewing the film of role plays. Six case studies consisting of two role play sessions and two feedback sessions were repeatedly watched and transcribed. The transcriptions were analysed using thematic analysis and the theories of Open-space Learning (OSL) were used to frame the research.

The results identified the six actor technique themes of specificity of language, managing the imagined space, body language, challenging and rewarding the participant, facilitating, and feedback from the characters’ perspective. It also identified the six participant learning themes of business-specific learning, meeting structure, questioning technique, use of language, use of body language, and the ability to build rapport, work collaboratively, and demonstrating empathy. From this, I hypothesised a theoretical framework for, and refined the concept of, PRP. This research will benefit educationalists in the design and delivery of behavioural learning workshops and working with professional actors in education. It will also benefit business schools and organisations in creating learning specific to workplace interaction and communications. I consider my research a starting point for future research into behavioural learning for the workplace.

Keywords: role play; behavioural learning; business education; adult education; experiential learning; business skills; simulation; embodied intelligence; coaching.