Spotlight on role-play : interrogating the theory and practice of role-play in adult education from a theatre arts perspective

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This thesis addresses the use of role-play in adult education. It is a piece of scholarly research that aims to further develop ideas of theory and practice in this area. It is also hoped that this research will provide a framework for practice that will encourage both adult educators and learners to feel more confident using role-play as a learning approach. The research arose from problems that the author experienced in her practice as an adult educator using role-play in adult vocational education training programs in higher education. The key problem identified was how to involve participants in a role-play but at the same time encourage their critical awareness so that they could learn from the experience. Questions of involvement and its converse, detachment, also relate to the emotional content of learning, and how this can be safely and productively managed in a role-play situation. Role-play in adult education is an under-theorised area, and the available literature offers inadequate answers to the problems identified above. There is, however, a great deal of research and information about role-play in theatre arts and related areas such as drama-in-education and dramatherapy, but this is rarely referred to in adult education. This may be because role-play is often presented as an aspect of simulation and gaming, which are strategies that tend to adopt, a scientific rather than an arts approach to learning. Also, since much of the theatre arts literature that is relevant to role-play comes from drama-in-education, it refers to child or adolescent learning rather than adult education. This thesis argues that the positioning of role-play in the theoretical field of simulation and gaming is limiting. It proposes that it would be more productive if role-play could be seen as a theatre arts strategy. It demonstrates the significant benefits role-play could gain from an analysis of the available literature in this area, and how this could beneficially alter the way role-play is conceptualised and practised. Once role-play is positioned as a theatre arts strategy it is possible to explore how its 'significant form' engages participants, yet also enables them to remain critically detached from the role-play so they can learn from it. The thesis also presents the proposition that aesthetic learning may have something significant to offer adult education. Theatre arts can provide a comprehensive framework for conceptualsing and using role-play in adult education. If role-play were to be utilised within this framework, then adding an arts perspective to adult education could potentially transform learning in this area.
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