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  • Catherine Plumb

Drama Based Training: What is it and why use it?

You’ve exhausted independent learning, instructor-led training, and e-learning to upskill and retain your workforce, but your organisation has yet to achieve their workforce culture goals. What other options to you have?

drama based training in action. A professional actor as a barrister in a courtroom with stage lights

Drama based training is an experiential learning methodology, which is often misunderstood as ‘role play’; where employees are asked to stand up in front of their colleagues and perform under pressure. In fact, drama-based training eliminates this stress by using the skills of professional actors. This allows the audience to engage all their senses, build empathy and develop self-knowledge and awareness in a non-judgmental, open, safe environment. It brings learning to life by being immersive and experimental using the methods below:

  • Business Theatre – a live theatrical performance which can address a range of issue-based topics, and used as a centre piece for conferences or training programmes

  • Forum Theatre - An interactive way of exploring issues using actors directed by the audience. Whilst the performing is left to our team of professional actors, the audience can stop and start the performance suggesting alternative actions to create different outcomes.

  • Scenarios and monologues – professional actors reflect real issues, people and challenges and enables the audience to explore bias and perspectives, behaviour change and to stimulate self-reflection and discussion.

  • Hotseating - Speaking directly to the characters, the audience 'unpick' issues, improve understanding, challenge perceptions, build empathy, and develop appropriate communication skills

Learning first-hand through experience, drama-based training is proven to be one of the most powerful, memorable and valuable ways of learning and is set to be the future of skills development.

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn” – Benjamin Franklin

Upskilling employees is inevitable, so HR leaders should consider investing in training sooner rather than later. CBI and McKinsey forecast the skill gaps over 10 years and benefits of training, their outcome determined that upskilling workers, could result in £150-190 billion uplift by 2030, increasing job satisfaction for employees, employee retention and increased competitiveness for UK businesses. With a vast array of options for training, organisations look to the most efficient and cost-effective methods, but perhaps the methods change dependant on the type training required. Experiential and collaborative training, according to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2023, is predicted to be the future of learning - businesses ‘crave the human experience of learning’ meaning people need people. The impact of learning through human connection is significantly higher than independent learning.

With the cost of recruiting being greater than the cost of training, hiring a new employee is significantly more costly than the investment of training. It is suggested by ILX Group that organisations can save an average of 70%-92% by upskilling rather than replacing employees. For example, it would cost on average £35,565 to replace a HR Leader but just £6,458 to train them.

The benefits of experiential training - positive engagement plus reflective thinking equals successful outcomes

Augusto Boal pioneered forum theatre and believed theatre could be used for radical change and I can’t help but agree. The effectiveness of drama-based training lies in the ability of making it bespoke which the CIPD recommends using as a training tactic. When training is bespoke to the individual and organisation it reflects their environment and makes the scenario observed instantly relatable and starts to negate the negative preconception and attitudes of “the training isn’t targeted at me so I won’t fully participate”. It creates an immersive experience, capturing the interest of participants instantly. The collaboration of participants allows them to become emotionally invested, getting involved and putting their skills into practice. Research indicates there is an 86% increase in learner engagement when people work together and 91% of employees who learn together are more successful.

Conversations need to be had in person to be the most effective. Tones need to be heard, facial expressions need to be seen and energy needs to be felt. A study was conducted to find out the lasting impact of experiential training compared to other learning approaches. The results discover:

  • Participants retained 10% of the information from being told;

  • Participants retained 32% of the information from being told and shown;

  • Participants retained 65% of the information from being told, shown and experiencing it.

Interaction, discussion, working together and having challenging conversations between colleagues all contribute to team cohesion, ultimately producing further business benefits and productivity. While many training approaches are available, using drama-based methods not only addresses a training need, but it is also the first step in creating an inclusive workplace culture.

Organisations who have worked with drama-based training companies such as Garnett Interactive admit the approach is highly effective:

I came in thinking it would be so cringeworthy and it was absolutely brilliant!”

Another said:

The Diversity and Inclusion training was excellent. The use of professional actors and the interaction with them felt realistic.”

You can view similar case studies here.


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