Drama-based role-play: a tool to supplement work-based learning in higher education

Kirsi Kettula (Strategic Support for Research and Education, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland)
Sami Berghäll (Department of Forest Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Publication date: 21 October 2013



The purpose of this study is to determine how closely an in-class role-play can mirror and capture the features and characteristics of work-based learning with real-life working experiences. The aim is also to discuss the potential and drawbacks of using role-play as a form of work-related learning.


This case study relies on qualitative data obtained from learning journals covering learning experiences on a role-play exercise. In total, 16 undergraduate students participated in a course in business-to-business marketing and took part in a series of face-to-face simulations.


Compared to the characteristics, features and potential outcomes of work-based learning, role-play can entail several similar learning outcomes. The strengths of a role-play are many. Participants can practise real-life situations in a safe environment; their learning is not restricted to a particular work setting; they are able to learn through reflection, and conflicts between stakeholders can be avoided. The comparative weaknesses include a lack of support from senior colleagues and an unclear contribution to the real world. Furthermore, the method may produce stereotypes or anxiety in the participants.

Research limitations/implications

Due to the small target group, reliance on one source of data, and the phenomenological nature of findings, further studies are needed with larger target groups and different research approaches.

Practical implications

The findings reveal that role-play can offer higher education a supplementary tool for work-based learning.


In higher education, role-play may serve as a tool to reach many of the learning objectives of work-based learning, especially if real workplace experiences cannot be arranged.



Kettula, K. and Berghäll, S. (2013), "Drama-based role-play: a tool to supplement work-based learning in higher education", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 25 No. 8, pp. 556-575. https://doi.org/10.1108/JWL-04-2012-0036

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