Debriefing in simulation as well as after clinical events is a common method of continuing the learning process through helping participants garner insight from their participation in the activity. It is postulated and I believe, part of the power of this “conversation” when call debriefing is when the participant engages in active reflection. The onus is on the debriefer to create an environment where active reflection occurs.
One of the most effective ways to achieve this goal is through questions. When participants are asked questions regarding the activity being debriefed it forces them to replay the scenario or activity in their mind. I find it helpful to begin with rather open-ended broader questions for two reasons. The first is to ensure the participant(s) are ready to proceed. Secondly asking broader questions at the beginning such as “Can you give me a recap of what you just experienced?” Helps to force the participant to think about the activity in a longitudinal way. Gradually the questions become much more specific to allow the participant to understand cause and effect relationships between their performance in the activity and the outcomes of the case.
Another thing to consider is that when debriefing multiple people simultaneously, when a recollection of the activity is being recalled by one participant, the other participants are actively thinking about their own recognition of said activity. Thus active reflection is again triggered. It is quite natural for the other participants to not only be thinking about the activity, but actively forming their own thoughts in a comparison/contrast type of cognitive activity. During this period they are comparing their own recollection of the activity with the one of the person answering the initial question.
Question should be focused in a way that the debriefer is controlling the conversation through a structured pathway that allows the learning objectives to be met. Further, when one develops good debriefing habits through the use of questioning it limits the possibility of the debriefing converting into a ”mini – lecture”.
I believe the Structured and Supported debriefing model created by my colleague Dr. John O’Donnell along with collaborators, provides the best framework by which to structure the debriefing. His use of the GAS mnemonic has effectively allowed the model to be introduced to both novice and expert debriefers alike and facilitate an easily learned structured framework into their debriefing work. We have been able to successfully introduce this model across many cultures and at least five different languages and have had significant success.
Worksheets, or job-aids with some example questions that parallel the learning objectives can be written on such tools prior to the scenario commencement. Supplementing the job aid with additional notes during the performance of the scenario can be helpful to recall the important points of discussion at the time of debriefing, and the preformed questions can serve as gentle reminders to the debriefer on topics that must be covered to achieve a successful learning outcome.
So a challenge to you is the next time you conduct a debriefing be thinking in the back of your mind how can I best force my participants to engage in active reflection of the activity that is bring debriefed. In addition, I would recommend that you practice debriefing as often as you can! Debriefing is an activity that improves over time with experience and deliberate practice.