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Role Play

Aim of the method/strategy

  • To reflect on one’s knowledge and the various dimensions of an issue
  • To develop critical thinking on different perspectives found in different adult education domains, such as adult education policies
  • To simulate a situation in which different perspectives on issues are offered
  • To learn how to present and defend ideas when facing people holding different perspectives


COMPALL and INTALL Adult Education Academies master's and doctoral students; classroom, university building

Type and name of the course, curriculum, number of students involved in the teaching practice:

  • Master’s and doctoral students involved in the COMPALL and INTALL Adult Education Academy
  • Master’s and doctoral students in adult education, max. 26 students

Description of the strategy/method

This activity – the role play – requires a minimum of 3 hours.

  • Step 1 (5 minutes)

In a course with 26 students, students are divided in three groups.

  • Step 2 (10 minutes)

Each group receives information on a sheet of paper concerning one of three different

perspectives on adult education policies, each presented as an ideal-type perspective in an analytical adult education policy model. You may want to use the three perspectives of the analytical adult education policy model by Lima and Guimarães (2011). These three different perspectives are characterised by different keywords, guidelines, and statements.

  • Step 3 (5 minutes)

Someone – the lecturer, for example – plays the role of the Ministry of Education, which has to fund adult education programmes. The Ministry of Education has a large amount of funding and will fund the best proposal presented, according to pre-established guidelines and aims such as fostering adult education as a social right or promoting the development of knowledge and skills relevant today in a specific region or nation.

  • Step 4 (1 hour and 40 minutes)

Each group of students has to work on an adult education proposal following the keywords, guidelines, and statements of one of the three analytical perspectives. This proposal should include a motto, a logo, aims, activities to be developed, participant profiles, adult educators involved, an evaluation, and the funding requested for the implementation of the proposal.

  • Step 5 (1 hour; each group has 10 minutes to present the proposal they have worked on)

Each group presents the proposal they have worked on to the Minister of Education, highlighting its motto, logo, aims, activities to be developed, participant profile, adult educators involved, evaluation, and funding these students are asking for. After all three proposals have been presented, the Minister of Education may ask questions in order to clarify doubts that may have arisen. Each of the three groups may ask questions to the other groups in order to clarify doubts; they may also emphasise strengths of their own proposal and point out weaknesses of other groups’ proposals. Each group can respond and highlight the strongest points of the proposal they have built.

  • Step 6

The Minister of Education announces that he/she will meet with the Prime Minister and other relevant government officials in charge of developing adult education policy in order to decide which amount will be given to each proposal.

Materials required

  • Guidelines concerning the three different perspectives. They have to be coherent enough to enable students to present the three different adult education proposals including the relevant keywords, guidelines, and statements.
  • Large sheets of papers for students to write down their proposals. Coloured pens and markers.
  • Flipchart
  • Tables and chairs

Origin and theoretical framework

  • Role play as a simulation provides students with some form of imaginary or real world within which to act out a given situation. According to Stutcliffe (2002), “the aim of a simulation is to deepen students’ conceptual understanding by working within, and reflecting upon, a representation of a real environment”.
  • “(...) The dynamic of a simulation may be competitive, whereby students are encouraged either to outperform other students or to achieve a high rating according to criteria set by the simulation. In these cases, the simulation is also a game.” Role play is a well-established tool in several domains, including education. It helps students to practice what to say and how to react when others are presenting statements.

Risks and Advantages

  • Advantages: to promote group dynamics in a classroom, to foster active methods of teaching and learning; to have students work together and support each other based on a specific statement; to practice specific behaviours and attitudes, namely when people have to prepare an adult education programme and defend it in the presence of others who might support the development of such programme, such as someone in charge of funding a public policy of adult education.
  • Risks: to work with students from different countries, to have several mother tongues and participants speaking English as a second language; to not have students committed enough to producing a statement; to have students not willing to work with each other and support each other in building a statement; to have students too committed to their own statements and having accusing each other (taking the role play too seriously).

Possible variations

  • The method can be used in different settings, including social sciences such as adult education.

Other examples where you think it could be used

The method can be used in in different settings, such as those requiring the confrontation of different perspectives.


  • Use large rooms for students to work on their statements
  • Use large room for all three groups to get together presenting and defending their statements



Sutcliffe, M. (2002). Simulations, games and role play. In P. Davies (ed.)., The Handbook for Economics Lecturers (1-26). Accessed in

Contact persons

Paula Guimarães ( )
Natália Alves ( )

Please pay attention to the arguments presented by C. Griffin and by Lima and Guimarães, to the discussions during the sessions of the Course and also to your notes from the guest lectures/field visits!

"The social democratic group" - Modernisation and state control model

You are against the Radical/Critical Group, but sometimes you agree with some of their arguments concerning the role of the State (provision, regulation, democracy…). However, you see that group as political radicals, always against the bureaucracy of the State, against the market, capitalism, competitiveness, formal democracy.

But you are extremely critical towards the NEO-LIBERAL GROUP and to the unique role of the market in ALE (too much vocational training, too much importance given to skills, competences, qualifications, individual learning for the adaptation of individuals to the market…).

Remember that some of your basic concepts and pedagogical ideals are: lifelong education, social responsibility of the State towards the citizens, public provision, welfare state, social rights and solidarity, education for democracy and for changing social and economic inequalities…

Yours arguments are much based on the tradition of UNESCO, Edgar Faure, Paul Lengrand, Jacques Delors, EAEA…


  • Defend those statements against the arguments presented by the other groups;
  • Criticize the other groups based on your own policy agenda for ALE;
  • Be creative!

"The radical/critical group" - Democratic Emancipatory Model

You are against the Social Democratic Group, but you can sometimes agree on the role of the State, on economic distribution, public provision, state regulation, democracy…

However, you see that Group as not so much advanced in democratic and emancipatory terms, more engaged in formal democracy than in participatory democracy and critical and active citizenship.

But you are extremely critical towards the Neo-Liberal Group and to the role of the Market in ALE (too much vocational training, skills, competences and qualifications for the global market in the new capitalism…

Remember that some of your basic concepts and pedagogical ideals are: the role of NGOs and CSOs, critical social movements, anti-globalization movements in ALE and Popular adult Education in the tradition of Paulo Freire and of “Critical Pedagogy”, the democratisation of democracy, new social rights and social justice, new forms of social struggles, critical learning, education not for adaptation or adjustment but for change…

Your arguments are based on just a part of UNESCO ideals and mainly on Political and Popular Education, Radical Pedagogy, World Education Forum agendas, authors like Freire, Illich, Giroux, Torres…


  • Defend those statements against the arguments presented by the other groups;
  • Criticize the other groups based on your own policy agenda for ALE;
  • Be creative, tough, and assertive (you are radical thinkers!)

"The neo-liberal group" - Human Resources Management Model

You are against the Social Democratic Group members because they are for the role of the Welfare State in ALE, which for you means paternalism, bureaucracy and control over the individuals and their freedom of choice, centralisation and inefficiency of public administration, regulation against the “invisible hand” of the free Market, against consumer and client rights in the global “learning market”.

But you are extremely critical towards the Radical/Critical Group and its policy agenda for ALE, because of their dangerous ideas of changing the world, being against learning as adaptation to the real and existing world, being against capitalism, liberal democracy, vocational training, employability, skills and competences that are considered by the Radicals as forms of alienation through instrumental learning…

Remember that some of your basic arguments and pedagogical ideals are based on the role of the market, individual choice, training for the economic growth, learning for earning and competitiveness, de-regulation and devolution of the responsibilities of the welfare state to individuals and to civil society, managerial reforms and privatisation…

Authors as Michael Porter and Peter Drucker, but not educational thinkers, and organisations as the OECD, the World Bank and the Davos Economic Forum are your main references.  


  • Defend those statements against the arguments presented by the other groups;
  • Criticize the other groups based on your own policy agenda for ALE;
  • Be creative, assertive and show your confidence on the market.