Sharing some practical considerations to help you with your debriefing efforts!
1. Before you begin attend to learner readiness
Before you begin ensuring the emotional readiness of your learners will be a huge benefit. Learning during a debriefing can be enhanced by reducing distractions. Such distractions can occur from many possible origins. If learners are particularly stressed, angry or perhaps sad after a simulation experience it is best to let them process their emotions or otherwise emotionally and mentally prepare themselves to be able to focus on the content of the debriefing. So, taking a few minutes to observe, or perhaps even directly asking, “Are you ready?” may go a long way. Also, another tool that I use after a stressful simulation is to just acknowledge that there may be stress with a statement such as “Wow. That looked stressful. Are you guys ready to talk about it?”
2. During the debriefing, listen to the learners, analyze their thoughts and understanding
A structured debriefing should provide the opportunity to listen to learners. This allows the debriefer to analyze if the learners have a command of the facts and understanding of the intended learning associated with the simulation. It is easy to become impatient with the process and start telling the learners what they need to know. Once this occurs, it is difficult to assess what the learners do know and understand. As you listen to learners during the debriefing think about what you need to ask next, or where you need to take the conversation to be able to analyze the next area of content you wish to explore during the debriefing. So another tip is shift your thoughts to how can I discover if my learners know….. as opposed to the normal transmittal of information that comes from thinking I need to tell them X, Y and Z so that they understand.
3. What went right is as important as what went wrong
There is a saying that the negative screams and the positive whispers. This could not be truer when it comes to debriefing. It is far easier to remember what people did wrong during a scenario, then what they did right. But if you sit back and think about it, they are equally as important. Learners leaving a debriefing understanding that they did correctly and why it was correct, paired with an understanding what they did wrong and why it was wrong is critically important for improvement to occur. If the right things are not debriefed, it may be that they were done out of habit or luck and that the learners don’t understand it at all! Or worse yet, they could be perceived as unimportant. So a good tip is to jot some noted down of things that went correctly during a scenario. Trust me, you’ll remember all those mistakes which will be screaming!
4. Keep the debriefing focused
A challenge for anyone conducting a debriefing is to keep things focused. Learners love to talk about what learners want to talk about. However, it’s important as the facilitators of the conversation that we have the learners talking about what they need to be talking about. What learners need to be talking about should be driven by the learning objectives of the scenario. This direction needs to come from the debriefer. There is a delicate relationship that exists between the learners and the debriefer so carefully thinking about how to maintain this but being able to gently nudge the conversation back to the right pathway is a skill worth concentrating on. A tip is to develop some scripts that you are comfortable using when such nudging need to occur.
Consider this example, “I agree that the exact dosage of the medication is critically important, but for this scenario and debriefing we are tasked with focusing on the effectiveness of the communications within the team. So, who can give me an example of effective communications that occurred during the scenario?”
5. Bring out summary/take home points
Every simulation has a plethora of opportunities for learning. It is the job of the debriefer to ensure that the primary learning objectives of the simulation are covered. During complicated cases or cases with multiple learning objectives it is possible to cover a lot of ground along with many topics and facts during the time when you are analyzing the learners grasp of the content. It is important to close with summary points that are crucial take home messages. This can be challenging for some, and often turns into a mini lecture. And remember when you start lecturing to the learners, you are sacrificing the ability to ensure understanding where the learner is at that point and time. Concluding or beginning the wrap up of the debriefing by asking leaners to give one or two things that they think went well during the scenario along with what they would change next time can be an effective probe into understanding that the learners took away the big learning messages. It also serves as the time to allow you to shape the discussion with further questions that drive home the intended take away points. Always think to yourself what are the two or three things that I want them to remember most from this experience a month from now.
Well that’s is for now. Remember debriefing gets better with practice, feedback and experience. So, get out there, debrief, get some feedback and debrief again!