In the diverse toolkit of HR and L&D, Drama-based Learning (DBL)  stands out as a versatile and impactful learning technique. At Co-Creation, we’re excited to spotlight Drama-based Learning, showcasing its unique place to foster growth and development. Guided by our expert, Hamish Wyllie, Co-Creation Consultant, we invite you to explore Drama-based Learning with us, revealing its potential to enhance professional learning experiences in new and engaging ways.

Expert Insight: Hamish Wyllie

 

Hamish’s journey from the stage to the corporate training room equips him with unique insights into human behaviour, learning, and development. His approach to Drama-based Learning is informed by the idea that rehearsal is not about perfection but exploration. This philosophy underpins Drama-based Learning, making it a powerful tool for personal and professional growth.

Key Takeaways:

  • Understanding Drama-based Learning: Grasp the essence of Drama-based Learning and how it differs from conventional training methods.
  • Overcoming Anxiety: Discover how Drama-based Learning addresses common fears associated with performance conversation and public speaking in a professional setting.
  • Reframing Failure: Learn the value of failing safely within the Drama-Based Learning context and how it fosters a culture of experimentation and learning.
  • Real-world Application: Explore the practical applications of Drama-based Learning in addressing complex workplace conversations and scenarios.
  • Psychological Insights: Gain insights into the psychological aspects of learning and behaviour that Drama-based Learning leverages for more effective learning outcomes.

Drama-based Learning is an umbrella term used to describe any experiential learning process which dramatises or plays out a particular scenario or circumstance for participants to navigate. It is designed to fortify learning through repetition and familiarity with said circumstances, to better equip those to deal with the situation if/when it presents for real.

It often produces feelings of toe-curling anxiety and acute vulnerability for many people in the corporate world. They envisage large audiences, analysing and critiquing every detail of their interaction with another person, expecting to have their whole social persona gently torn to pieces by their colleagues under the guise of them ‘trying to be helpful,’ – or worse, actually having to act!

The feedback consists largely of them making variations of the same point:
“Well, I wouldn’t have done it like that,” to which of course the internal response is always:
“No, of course you wouldn’t, you’re not me!”

Most leave feeling rather deflated and while glad of the day off work, a sense that it’s largely been a bit of a waste of time. 

These anxieties are not unfounded. Sadly, most of them are based on lived experience. They are, however, reframable. Those who enjoy Drama-based Learning the least are often misinformed about its purpose, which is not to be good or get it right, but rather to fail safely. To celebrate getting it wrong.

Reframing Failure:

Firstly, let me dispel a myth about Drama-based Learning: you should never have to ‘act.’ Drama-based  Learning demands you to be yourself in the circumstances of the scenario – that’s the whole point. Nobody is expecting some polished, method-acting performance of an idealistic HR manager – where is the learning in that?

Secondly, Drama-based Learning commissioners are usually well aware of these anxieties among their staff, which is why they usually hire professional actors like me to play opposite you, to at least give you something to bounce off and try to provide some kind of realism to what is, of course, an artificial situation.

Given my acting background, however, forgive me this one artistic anecdote:

“Why do actors rehearse,” a friend said to me exasperatedly one day in the middle of a rehearsal room.

“What?” I said.

“Well, theatre is supposed to represent real life, right? You don’t rehearse real life! Why don’t actors just get sent the script of whatever they’re performing, learn their part and then wing it on the night – would make everything so much more authentic and raw, don’t you think, rather than knowing exactly what the other person is going to do?”

“Cause they’re a paying audience and they’re expecting to see something slick and professional – not something as messy as real life. We don’t rehearse to get things right, we rehearse to get them wrong in order to find out what works – and we celebrate that. The point of a rehearsal is not to be good. The point of rehearsals are that they’re safe spaces to fail and learn how to be better,” barked the director at us from across the room.  

Little did I know that this telling off on a seemingly ordinary wet Tuesday afternoon in my 3rd year at drama school, would end up being one of the most profound and philosophical things anyone had ever said to me. Once I realised I was working with someone who didn’t care if I was good, but cared more that I had the courage to try something simply as an experiment, have it potentially fail and risk looking foolish in front of everyone, suddenly I didn’t feel that pressure anymore. And of course, by definition, if everyone assumed the same stance, then nobody would chastise, laugh or blame for failure because we were all in the same boat. In that one seemingly pretentious comment, he’d created an environment of psychological safety, and suddenly, I had permission to play!

The same is true for Drama-based Learning. Often, the people who enjoy Drama-Based Learning the least are the ones who assume a narrative of:

“I need to get this right because this is how this should be done,” or
“My colleagues/bosses will judge me and my performance on this.”

As opposed to the narrative of the rehearsal room, which says,

“I’d rarely get the opportunity to do this in real life, let’s see what the reaction to this is. Let’s experiment here. Let’s play.”

Drama-based learning is as close to a human interaction simulator as you are ever going to get, without the pre-programmed outcome of a machine. Unlike a stage play, Drama-Based Learning is not scripted. Participants are given a scenario in which they are told to contextualise themselves, and while they may be given guidance, such as being told to be overly emotional or to aim for a specific outcome, their responses are largely authentically themselves, in direct response to what they are fed.

From that perspective Drama-based Learning is arguably one of the most valuable L&D resources. The opportunities to rehearse and get comfortable with what are traditionally some of the most awkward and painful conversations you can have with a colleague are invaluable.

Topics like:

  • Performance Feedback
  • Equality, Diversity & Inclusion
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Time Management
  • Communication Breakdowns
  • Work-life balance
  • Career Transitions
  • Bereavement
  • Disciplinary Conversations
  • Redundancy
  • Strike Action 

These conversations are never easy, but sadly, all too often, they are ones we continually get wrong. We are embarrassed, flustered, ignorant, under pressure, inevitably won’t have understood the emotional context of the situation, and are trying as best as we can to deal with the unfolding situation in a professional manner while also managing our emotional selves and the welfare of the organisation at large – that’s a lot. And those are just the responses in our conscious awareness!

Fight, Flight, Fawn & Freeze

Our bodies are cruel – our minds are worse. They trick us into believing that when the time comes to have a difficult conversation with someone, we’ll instinctively know what to do or what to say. We don’t take account of the body’s unconscious responses to what we perceive to be threatening.

Evolutionary psychology still suggests that in 2024, we have the same primal responses to pressure, stress, conflict and threat that we had over 100,000 years ago as cavemen, in which we usually default to one of four different states: fight, flight, fawn or freeze.

Fight: Confronting any perceived threat with aggression.
Flight: Directly removing yourself away from threats & conflict to avoid them.
Freeze: Unable to move, act or think clearly against a threat, but are instead paralysed.
Fawn: Immediately surrender to the threat and try to people please as much as possible by letting the other person win to eliminate the threat.

In each of these situations, the body produces a rush of adrenaline and noradrenaline, taking blood and oxygen away from organs and redundant processes like digestion and reproduction, and instead moving it to the major muscle groups used for confrontation or escaping, such as the arms and legs, and cognition is reduced.

In these situations, the brain is much more likely to revert to default, more unconscious (unfiltered) responses that are instinctual, as opposed to refined through verbal or written feedback.

There is, therefore a reliance on the kinaesthetic learning system – muscle memory in layman’s terms. Learning done through practical ‘doing’ is retained and considered more reliable than knowledge acquired through reading, being vicariously told, or any cognitively heavy problem-solving.

In essence, Drama-based Learning is a learning tool that expects the unexpected and gives learners a concrete grounding for decision-making when they find themselves in situations where they may be unable to think clearly.

It takes account of the inevitable variations in the responses and unconscious processes of both interviewer and interviewee by allowing for relational responses wholly appropriate to the situation that people have a reasonable expectation are going to be effective, based on the outcome and feedback from the role-played scenario while accounting for the one variable that nobody can possibly prepare for in life – the unpredictability of human behaviour.

Drama-based Learning in Practice

Drama-based Learning’s practical applications are vast, touching on critical areas like diversity and inclusion, conflict resolution, and performance feedback. This method is particularly adept at preparing individuals for the unpredictable nature of human interactions, making it invaluable for HR and L&D professionals.

Ready to revolutionise your training programs? Explore how Drama-based Learning can elevate your team’s performance and tackle complex challenges with confidence. Contact +44 0161 969 2512, or info@co-creation.group.