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Debriefing Learning Activities

By Martha Lasley
Coaching for Transformation
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When we debrief a learning activity, people can be utterly bored or deeply engaged. The key to engagement is to create time for reflection.

People don't learn from experiential activities; they learn from reflecting on their experience. Too many facilitators get pressed for time and cut out the debriefing, but if we’re going to cut anything out, we can shorten the activity – and spend most of our time on the debrief. The power of experiential learning activities is not in the doing, but in reflecting on the experiences and uncovering new insights.

Thiagi says, “If you don’t have time for the debrief, don’t do the activity… Just pretend you did the activity and debrief that.”

Learning doesn’t magically appear. When we know what we want learners to get from the activity we can front-load the activity by telling them where to put their attention. In the debrief we find out what they actually learned. If they missed something we wanted them to get, we can normalize wherever they are, and weave in the additional teaching points.

Setting the tone

How do we set the tone for debriefing as a sacred activity? How do we give learners a sense early on about how to use debrief time well? How do we ensure that they take responsibility for their own learning so we aren’t working so hard as facilitators?

On the very first session, we get all the voices into the debrief, so that everyone sees themselves as a reflector and a contributor. An early debrief can go like this:

After a session, reflect on your experience for two minutes in silence. Put your attention on a few flip charted questions:

  • What is one highlight of your experience?
  • How do you feel?
  • What did you learn?
  • How can you apply what you learned?

Spend about 30 seconds thinking about each question in silence.

Then succinctly share with a partner one-sentence responses to the facilitator’s questions:

  • What is one highlight of your experience? (30 seconds)
  • How do you feel? (30 seconds)
  • What did you learn? (30 seconds)
  • How can you apply what you learned? (30 seconds)

This process gets people talking and focusing on what matters, and expressing themselves in a few words. Because they've already found their voice, when we then ask a few people to share in the large group, people are primed and are eager to contribute to the conversation. 


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