Mindful Writing: Reimagining Role Plays

Mindful Writing is a new approach and tool which addresses a common learning challenge presented to educators when moving role plays to an electronic format.

I recently had to address a challenge around Role Plays in an eLearning and distance learning environment.

The standard solution was to video tape the interactions and put the entire recording of the video in place.

However after reviewing the big videos (40+ minutes long) it was obvious “something” was missing.  The tacit knowledge didn’t come through as strongly as it should.

This article explores the basis of the Mindful Writing tool in how it can provide an electronic replacement when face to face role plays or real time direction aren’t possible.

Cinema isn’t the Theater

If anyone has seen a play performed on a stage and the same material delivered through the cinema there is a distinct difference.

Real people, who can forget lines and must stay in character, creates a real tension and heightens your attentive focus.

As Peter Bradshaw wrote in 2016 for the Guardian, for modern audiences, there are palpable differences.


The same is true in learning. Being an actor in a role play is quite different to watching a video of two people attempting to play it out.

One of the primary challenges with a video is that most people aren’t professional actors. However the audience by nature of the medium is expecting a cinematic experience.

Similarly, the content is not designed to be a Valjean-esque ending. Trying to beat Liam Neesson as Valjean in the final Scene of Les Miserables (1998 version) is not going to happen.

So a video is not going to hold your attention as well as a play.


Therefore as a learning company, what are we going to do? Just ditch Role Plays because they don’t work online?


Tacit knowledge

Also known as implicit knowledge is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “knowledge that you do not get from being taught, or from books, etc. but get from personal experience, for example when working in a particular organization.”

It is my belief that are three distinct types of knowledge.

  1. Academic fact: Tables, definitions, rules.
    2. Skills: How to tie a knot, find the biting point of a clutch pedal, how soft to kick a football.
    3. Emotional Understanding: How to incorporate empathy and understanding others situations as well as your own emotional state.


How feelings influence your comprehension of facts and skills is important.

So Role Plays very much feature in the training of Skills and Emotional Understanding.

You can easily argue that emotional control is a skill but given their complexity and social dynamic I separate them for clarity.

The process of being Mindful and examining ones thoughts and feelings, contributes to the name Mindful Writing.


How you kick a football, is influenced by how happy or sad you are (emotions) whilst also considering wind, distance and amount of objects between you and the goal (facts). Ideally skills shouldn’t be done in isolation but often that is not possible.

Being professional is often about removing the emotional component so the skill can be consistently delivered.  Yet we’re human with emotions which must be factored in and dealt with appropriately.

A picture says a thousand words. So for some skills and emotional understanding quite often words can’t convey, yet a role play could convey them.

The team over at Winning by Design offer up a practical way to construct a role play for sales training for a business.

So Role Plays have a use when we’re looking at skills and emotional understanding.


Mindful Writing : A deconstructed sandwich?

Is this a sandwich with one slice of bread, or a fancy way of upping the price for less bread?

Yet, taking something apart piece by piece can allow for something new to be built.  Subtly different but none the less different.

If you every had Lego or Duplo bricks as a child, no two constructions were ever quite the same.

So let’s take apart a role play.


It becomes 4 stages which have huge similarity to the theater.

  1. Setting the scene.  Stage 1, sees the teacher / educator setting the scene. Here’s what we’re exploring.
  2. Run through.  Next, stage 2, we see a run through, detailed piece by piece. Usually the student mentally plays one of the roles in the scenario. In cinema called”direction”.  The student gets time take a pause and absorb the learning.  How is the scenario done differently or in a better way?
  3. And action.  Then stage 3 asks the student to deliver a new interpretation based on their newly absorbed knowledge and direction.
  4. Feedback.  Finally stage 4, the director takes into account all the student has produced and creates customised feedback for the actor / student.

Now we rebuild this process as a new tool called Mindful Writing.

Here are stages 1 through 3 in action. Click here for the process in action in 3 minutes for a student.


Providing feedback

The powerful part of stage 4, is that the educator can review the notes in context along with analytical data.

This enables the educator to provide further feedback and has discussion points to continue with the student and allows the educator tweak the process.

Asking the student to watch a video in isolation doesn’t garner feedback.  Using this process the educator gains insight into the students thinking at each stage of the process.

The feedback process of the Mindful Writing stage 4 is here in 2 minutes.


Some new tools for the educator

So now armed with 4 stages to deliver, videos will work, but this new tool is required.

Each stage should be digestible. The idea of bite sized chunks of work rather than a very long process helps the students focus and maintain attention levels.

We are not looking for an hour long video, instead we’re making the material digestible and reconfirming to the user that they’re making progress… you’re not just sitting here watching videos and allowing their minds to wander.

Mindful Writing is the tool which provides solutions for each of the 4 stages.

Here’s the entire construction process in a 6 minute video


The process in words

So let’s put the Mindful Writing stages into words:

Stage 1. The educator identifies a video to set the scene. This is the cringe version that highlights the mistakes and where the skills and emotions not used. Technically there is no difference at all to the delivery of this in person or by video. The director / educator is setting the scene. We highlight the bad. Most importantly we ask the user for feedback, to write notes, at the start of this process how does it make you feel?

Following this, Stage 2 allows us to provide direction and show how it might be done better. After setting the scene, we run through either notes or another training video to provide direction. We’re not inviting much feedback, simply asking the learner to take on board these facts and then asking the student to apply them to the material.

Subsequently Stage 3 invites the student to comment and review another scene.  However this time the new skills and / or emotions we learned / absorbed. This stage asks again for feedback. What’s different? What for the student changed? What would you have done differently as you would have delivered this?

At the end of these three stages, the student gets back their notes in a diary format to identify their progress.  As a student diary of your thinking before and after the training.  Simultaneously the educator gains tangible insight into what the student sees, identifies and feels worthy of remark.


Mindful Writing as a name?

In today’s modern vernacular “mindful” is defined in the dictionary as “focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, especially as part of a therapeutic or meditative technique.”  It also can be defined as “conscious or aware of something”.

Mindful Writing is often expressed as a way of using a diary type medium as part of a mindful process as described by Dr. Marianela Medrano.

This is exactly what skills and emotional understanding require.  It’s not just words on a page, it’s how it makes you act and feel.


Whilst the technology to capture feelings doesn’t yet exist, we can ask someone to express their thinking in words, hence mindful writing.

So by formalising a process around an activity of inner examination, we attempt to address the need of the educator to understanding what is going on for a student through a means that doesn’t involve physical contact.


The Tool in Action

Mindful Writing as a tool is available from the website https://wherewelearn.com for free to all educators from all walks of life.

It is a powerful tool and an option when a distance learning tool needs to deliver tacit knowledge.

I hope it helps you as an educator get your learning across as effectively as you mean to.

If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.

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