Category Archives: Curriculum

Five Tips for Effective Debriefing

There is no doubt that debriefing is an important part of simulation-based education efforts. Further, to do a good debriefing is not necessarily easy. Practice, self-reflection and getting training can help dramatically.  Seeking out help form experts and experienced people can be invaluable. Also, there are many resources in which to learn more about debriefing. I encourage you to take advantage of them!

Here are just five random tips in no particular order to help you increase the effectiveness of your debriefing!


  1. Know what the goal(s) are. Be specific.

Too many times simulation scenarios are executed and the faculty member just kind of winging it during the debriefing. It is far more effective a strategy to be keenly aware of what the learning outcomes and goals are prior to the simulation. This will allow you to focus your thoughts and ideas on helping the participants get better during the simulation which can be carried forward to your debriefing efforts. If you are attempting to have the debriefing constrained to the learning objectives for the simulation it is often easier to organize the information and get across the salient points that are needed to achieve the learning outcomes. It is particularly important to remember that you can’t teach everything with every scenario. The participant brain can only take in or process so much information in any one setting. In this case think of a sponge completely saturated with water, that can’t take any more!

  1. Have a framework or structure in mind

Having a structure to your debriefing ahead of time, or perhaps adopting a model of debriefing can help you significantly overcoming the challenging parts of debriefing. Some of the challenges occur in organizing the information. There are a number of debriefing models out there for consideration of adoption. There is no reason to believe that one is better than the other. I highly recommend that you learn several models and become comfortable with them. What you’ll find is some models work better than others in varying situations based on s number of factors such as the experience and expertise of the debriefer, the subject matter that is the focus of the simulation, as well as the level of the learners.

  1. Involve all the learners

If you are debriefing a group of students a challenging task can be involving all the learners. Often times there will be one or two learners who engage in a dialogue with the debriefer and without conscious effort and skill it is easy to continue the dialogue and allow the other members of the participating team to feel potentially marginalized. Often times this dialogue occurs with the person that was in the “hotseat”. Making a conscious effort during the debriefing to include all of the students in a meaningful way can significantly create more learner engagement. Further, if you are running multiple scenarios I believe that engaging all the learners encourages them to pay closer attention if they are in an observation role for subsequent scenarios.

  1. Pull the ideas, don’t push the facts

I like to think of the debriefing as the time when we explore the learners thought processes. If we are transmitting information or pushing facts to them the situation can become more of a lecture. In fact I see many novice debriefers break into song and start delivering a mini lectures during attempts at debriefing. It is important to remember that when you are pushing the facts to the participants it limits the amount of assessment that you can do in terms of their understanding of the material and what you need to do to create deeper learning. So, if you find yourself making many declarative statements, pullback, and start to ask some questions. Encourage critical thinking, self reflection and ensure you are helping to create linkages of what went well during the scenario and why it was good, along with allowing the participants to discover and identify what they should do differently if they were to face a similar situation in real life or another simulation to improve.

  1. Create a summary of the take home points

Novice debriefers tend to struggle with creating an adequate summary. Also, Beware. This is another time that is at risk for the debriefing turning into a mini lecture. It is helpful to have a list of the major take-home points associated with the scenario. You can contextually adapt the summary to the performance that occurred during the simulation scenario even if you have the summary points written out prior to the simulation occurring. It is important to remember that during a debriefing many areas can be covered and touched upon. Learner should be engaged to identify the major learning points that they experience in the simulation, as well as understanding how the simulation was relevant to helping them become better healthcare providers.

So, this was intended to be five random tips on how to improve the effectiveness of your debriefing strategy. I hope that you found them useful!

Now, go forth and do great debriefings extra mission point


Until next time,

Happy Simulating!

Leave a comment

Filed under Curriculum, debriefing, simulation

Don’t be Confused! Every Simulation is an Assessment


Recently as I lecture and conduct workshops I have been asking people who run simulations how often they do assessments with their simulations. The answers are astounding. Every time there are a few too many people reporting that they are performing assessments less than 100% of the time that they run their simulations. Then they are shocked when I tell them that they do assessments EVERY TIME they run their simulations.

While some of this may be a bit of a play on words there should be careful consideration given to the fact that each time we run a simulation scenario we must be assessing the student(s) that are the learners. If we are going to deliver feedback, whether intrinsic to the design of the simulation, or promote discovery during a debriefing process, somewhere at some point we had to decide what we thought they did well and identify areas for needed improvement. To be able to do this you had to perform an assessment.

Kundenbewertungen - Rezensionen

Now let’s dissect a bit. Many people tend to equate the word assessment with some sort of grade assignment. Classically we think of a test that may have some threshold of passing or failing or contribute in some way to figure out if someone has mastered certain learnings. Often this may be part of the steps one needs to move on, graduate, or perhaps obtain a license to practice. The technical term for this type of assessment is summative. People in healthcare are all too familiar with such types of assessment!

Other times however, assessments can be made periodically with a goal of NOT whether someone has mastered something, but with more of a focus of figuring out what one needs to do to get better at what they are trying to learn. The technical term for this is formative assessment. Stated another way, formative assessment is used to promote more learning while summative assesses whether something was learned.

When things can get even more confusing is when assessment activities can have components or traits of both types of assessment activities. None the less, what is less important then the technical details is the self-realization and acceptance of simulation faculty members that every time you observe a simulation and then lead a debriefing you are conducting an assessment.

Such realization should allow you to understand that there is really no such thing as non-judgmental debriefing or non-judgement observations of a simulation-based learning encounter. All goal directed debriefing MUST be predicated upon someone’s judgement of the performance of the participant(s) of the simulation. Elsewise you cannot provide and optimally promote discovery of the needed understanding of areas that require improvement, and/or understanding of the topic, skills, or decisions that were carried out correctly during the simulation.

So, if you are going to take the time and effort to conduct simulations, please be sure and understand that assessment, and rendering judgement of performance, is an integral part of the learning process. Once this concept is fully embraced by the simulation educator greater clarity can be gained in ways to optimize assessment vantage points in the design of simulations. Deciding the assessment goals with some specificity early in the process of simulation scenario design can lead to better decisions associated design elements of the scenario. The optimizing of scenario design to enhance “assess-ability” will help you whether you are applying your assessments in a formative or summative way!

So, go forth and create, facilitate and debrief simulation-based learning encounters with a keen fresh new understanding that every simulation is an assessment!

Until Next Time Happy Simulating!

Leave a comment

Filed under assessment, Curriculum, design, scenario design, simulation

Three Things True Simulationists Should NEVER Say Again

From Wiktionary: Noun. simulationist (plural simulationists) An artist involved in the simulationism art movement. One who designs or uses a simulation. One who believes in the simulation hypothesis.

Woman taping-up mans mouth


After attending, viewing or being involved in hundreds if not thousands of simulation lectures, webinars, workshops, briefings and conversations there are a few things that I hear that make me cringe more than others. In this post I am trying to simmer it down to the top three things that I think we should ban from the conversations and vocabularies of simulationists around the globe!

1. Simulation will never replace learning from real patients!: Of course it wont! That’s not the goal. In fact, in some aspects simulation offers some advantages over learning on real patients. And doubly in fact, real patients have some advantages too! STOP being apologetic for simulation as a methodology. When this is said it is essentially deferring to real patients as some sort of holy grail or gold standard against which to measure. CRAAAAAAAZY……   Learning on real patients is but one methodology by which to attack the complex journey of teaching, learning and assessing the competence of a person or a team of people who are engaged in healthcare.  All the methodologies associated with this goal of education have their own advantages, disadvantages, capabilities and limitations. When we agree with people and say simulation will never replace learning from real patients, or allow that notion to go unchallenged, we are doing a short service to the big picture of creating a holistic education program for learners. See previous blog post on learning on real patients. 

2. In simulation, debriefing is where all of the learning occurs!: You know you have heard this baloney before. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh such statements are purely misinformed, not backed up by a shred of evidence, kind of contrary to COMMON SENSE, as well as demeaning to the participants as well as the staff and faculty that construct such simulations. The people who still make this statement are still stuck in a world of instructor centricity. In other words, “They are saying go experience all of that…… and then when I run the debriefing the learning will commence.” The other group of people are trying to hard sell you some training on debriefing and then make you think it is some mystical power held by only a certain few people on the planet. Kinda cra’ cra’ (slang for crazy) if you think about it.

When one says something to articulate learning cannot occur during the simulation is confirming that they are quite unthoughtful about how they construct the entire learning encounter. It also hints at the fact that they don’t take the construct of the simulation itself very seriously. The immersive experience that people are exposed to during the simulation and before the debriefing can be and should be constructed in a way that provides built in feedback, observations, as well as experiences that contribute to a feeling of success and/or recognition of the need for improvement. See previous blog post  on learning beyond debriefing

3. Recreation of reality provides the best simulation! [or some variant of this statement]: When I hear this concept even eluded to, I get tachycardic, diaphoretic, and dilated pupils. My fight or flight nervous system gets fully engaged and trust me, I don’t have any planning on running. 😊

[disclaimer on this one: I’m not talking about the type of simulation that is designed for human factors, and/or critical environmental design decisions or packaging/marketing etc. which depend upon a close replication to reality.]

This is one of the signs of a complete novice and/or misinformed person or sometimes groups of people! If you think it through it is a rather ludicrous position. Further, I believe trying to conform to this principle is one of the biggest barriers to success of many simulation endeavors. People spent inordinate amounts of time trying to put their best theatrical foot forward to try to re-create reality. Often what is actually occurring is expanding the time to set up the simulation, expanding the time to reset the simulation and dramatically increasing the time to clean up from the simulation. (All of the after mentioned time intervals increase the overall cost of the individual simulation, thereby reducing the efficiency.) While I am a huge fan of loosely modeling scenarios off of real cases in an attempt to create an environment with some sense of familiarity to the clinical analog, I frequently see people going to extremes trying to re-create details of reality.

We have hundreds and thousands of design decisions to make for even moderately complex scenarios. Every decision we make to include something to try to imitate reality has the potential to potentially cause confusion if not carefully thought out. It is easy to introduce confusion in the attempts to re-create reality since learners engage in simulation with a sense of hyper-vigilance that likely does not occur in the same fashion when they are in the real clinical learning environment. See previous blog post on cognitive third space.

If you really think about it the simulation is designed to have people perform something to allow them to learn, as well as to allow observers to form opinions about the things that the learner(s) did well, and those areas that can be improved upon. Carefully selecting how a scenario unfolds, and/or the equipment that is used to allow this performance to occur is part of the complex decision-making associated with creating simulations. The scenario should be engineered to exploit the areas, actions, situations or time frames that are desired focal points of the learning and assessment objectives.  Attention should be paid to the specifics of the learning and assessment objectives to ensure that the included cache of equipment and/or environmental accoutrements are selected to minimize the potential of confusion, create the most efficient pathway that allows the occurrence of the assessment that contributes improving the learning.

Lastly, lets put stock into the learning contract we are engaging in with our learners. We need to treat them like adult learners. (After all everybody wants to throw in the phrase adult learning principles…. Haha).

Let’s face it: A half amputated leg of a trauma patient with other signs and symptoms of hemorrhagic shock that has a blood-soaked towel under it is probably good enough for our adult learners to get the picture and we don’t actually need blood shooting out of the wound and all over the room. While the former might not be as theatrically sexy, the latter certainly contributes to the overall cost (time and resource) of the simulation. We all need to realistically ask, “what’s the value?”

While my time is up for this post, and I promised to limit my comments to only three, I cannot resist to share with you two other statements or concepts that were in the running for the top three. The first is “If you are not video recording your scenarios you cannot do adequate debriefing”, and the second one is “The simulator should never die.” (Maybe I’ll expand the rant about these and others in the future 😉).

Well… That’s a wrap. I’m off to a week of skiing with family and friends in Colorado!

Until next time,

Happy Simulating!


Filed under Curriculum, debriefing, scenario design, simulation

Don’t Let the Theory Wonks Slow Down the Progress of Healthcare Simulation


Those of us in the simulation community know well that when used appropriately and effectively simulation allows for amazing learning and contributes to students and providers of healthcare improving the craft. We also know there is very little published literature that conclusively demonstrates the “right way to do it”.

Yet in the scholarly literature there is still a struggle to define best practices and ways to move forward. I believe it is becoming a rate limiting step in helping people get started, grow and flourish in the development of simulation efforts.

I believe that part of the struggle is a diversity of the mission of various simulation programs ranging from entry level students to practicing professionals, varying foci on individualized learning incompetence, versus and/or team working communications training etc. Part of the challenges in these types of scholarly endeavors people try to describe a “one-size-fits-all“ approach to the solution of best practices. To me, this seems ridiculous when you consider the depths and breadth of possibilities for simulation in healthcare.

I believe another barrier (and FINALLY, the real point of this blog post 🙂  is trying to overly theorize everything that goes on with simulation and shooting down scholarly efforts to publish and disseminate successes in simulation based on some missing link to some often-esoteric deep theory in learning. While I believe that attachments to learning theory are important, I think it is ridiculous to think that every decision, best practice and policy in simulation, or experimental design, needs to reach back and betide to some learning theory to be effective.

As I have the good fortune to review a significant number simulation papers it is concerning to me to see many of my fellow reviewers shredding people’s efforts based on ties to learning theories, as well as their own interpretations on how simulation should be conducted. They have decided by reading the literature that is out there (of which there is very little, if any, conclusive arguments on best practices) has become a standard.

My most recent example is that of a paper I reviewed of a manuscript describing an experimental design looking at conducting simulation one way with a certain technology and comparing it to conducting the simulation another way without the technology. The authors then went on to report the resulting differences. As long as the testing circumstances are clearly articulated, along with the intentions and limitations, this is the type of literature the needs to appear for the simulation community to evaluate and digest, and build upon.

Time after time after time more recently I am seeing arguments steeped in theory attachments that seem to indicate this type of experimental testing is irrelevant, or worse yet inappropriate. There is a time and place for theoretical underpinnings and separately there is a time and place for attempting to move things forward with good solid implementation studies.

The theory wonks are holding up the valuable dissemination of information that could assist simulation efforts moving forward. Such information is crucial to assist us collectively to advance the community of practice of healthcare simulation forward to help improve healthcare globally.  There is a time to theorize and a time to get work done.

While I invite the theorist to postulate new and better ways to do things based on their philosophies, let those in the operational world, tell their stories of successes and opportunities as they are discovered.

Or perhaps it is time that we develop a forum or publication of high quality, that provides a better vehicle for dissemination of such information.

So…… in the mean time….. beware of the theory wonks. Try not to let them deter from your efforts to not only move your own simulation investigations forward, but to be able to disseminate and share them with the rest of the world!

Leave a comment

Filed under Curriculum, design, patient safety, return on investment

FIVE TIPS on effectively engaging adult learners in healthcare simulation

Leave a comment

Filed under Curriculum, design

Beware of the Educational Evangelist!

beware educational evangelistThey are everywhere now days like characters in pokemon go. They seem to hang out in high concentration around new simulation centers.

You know the type. Usually they start off by saying how terrible it is for someone to give a lecture. Then they go on to espouse the virtues and values of student – centered education claiming active participation and small group learning is the pathway to the glory land. They often toss in terms like “flipped classroom”. And just to ensure you don’t question their educational expertise they use a word ending with “-gogy” in the same paragraph as the phrase “evidence-based”.

If you ask them where they have been in the last six months you find out that they probably went to a weekend healthcare education reform retreat or something equivalent…….

My principal concern with the today’s educational evangelist is that they are in search of a new way of doing everything. Often times they recommend complete and total overhauls to existing curriculum without regard to a true understanding of how to efficiently and effectively improve, and/or analyze the existing resources required to carry out such changes.

Further, the evangelist usually has a favorite methodology such as “small group learning”, “problem-based learning” or “simulation-based learning” that they are trying to convert everyone to through prophecy.

An easy target of all educational evangelist is the lecture, and often that is where the prophecy begins. They usually want to indicate that if lecture is happening, learning is not. As I discussed in a previous blog article lecture is not dead, and when done well, can be quite engaging and create significant opportunities for learning and is maximally efficient in terms of resources.

If you think about a critically it is just as easy to do lousy small group facilitation as it is to do a lousy lecture. Thus, the potential gains in learning will not achieve maximal potential. The difference is small group facilitation like simulation, generally take significantly more faculty resources.

The truth is the educational evangelist is a great person to have in and amongst the team. Their desire for change, generally instilled with significant passion are often a source of great energy. When harnessed they can help advance and revise curricula to maximize, and modernize various educational programs.

However, to be maximally efficient all significant changes should undergo pre-analysis, hopefully derived from a needs assessment, whether it is formal or informal. Secondly, it is worth having more than one opinion to decide the prioritization of what needs to be changed in a given curriculum. While the evangelist will be suggestive that the entire curriculum is broken, often times with a more balanced review you find out that there are areas of the curriculum that would benefit from such overhaul, and some aspects that are performing just fine.

When you begin to change aspects of the curriculum, start small and measure the change if possible. Moving forward on a step-by-step basis will usually provide a far better revised curriculum then an approach that “Throws out the baby and the bathwater”. Mix the opinions of the stalwarts of the existing curriculum methods with the evangelists. Challenge existing axioms, myths and entrenched beliefs like “Nothing can replace the real patient for learning….” If this process is led well, it will allow the decision making group to reach a considerably more informed position that will lead to sound decisions, change strategies, and guide investments appropriately.

So if you’re the leader or a member of a team responsible for a given curriculum of healthcare instruction and confronted with the educational evangelist, welcome their participation. Include them in the discussions moving forward with a balanced team of people have them strive to create an objective prioritization of the needs for change. This will allow you to make excellent decisions with regard to new technologies and/or methods that you should likely embrace for your program. More importantly you will avoid tossing out the things that are working and are cost efficient.

Leave a comment

Filed under Curriculum, Uncategorized