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Five Stages of Debriefing

By Martha Lasley
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Extracting the Learning

We can facilitate learning by helping people reflect on their experience, uncover insights, share their learning, and apply it to their lives. One way to maintain a balance of structure and flow is to loosely follow the five step debriefing process, dancing with the energy, and weaving in spontaneity. This is an opportunity for them to personalize the learning and the application so that it’s relevant.

How do we draw them out? We can create space for slow processors by asking for some silence after the activity. We can them to expand on what they said, or what’s important about it. Rather than assuming they know nothing, we can draw on their wisdom and underline it. Pull the thread of context, coach’s stand, skills, and learning points throughout. When we take a stand that they know a lot about this already we create a culture of shared power. To expand on that, we can share what we as facilitators are learning – not what we learned last week, but what we are learning in the moment.

The most important part of any learning activity is the debrief because that's where learning happens. The five stages of a debrief help people discover, integrate and anchor what they learn. 

The five stages of a thorough debrief are: 

1. How do you feel?

Start by giving people a chance to notice their emotions. Give them plenty of opportunity to express reactions and connect with their internal state.

  • What’s your reaction?
  • Did anyone feel something else?
  • Your feelings may have changed during this activity – anxious, thrilled, confused, surprised, hurt, disappointed, angry, excited. What feelings stand out for you?

2. What did you notice?

Collect observable data about what happened during the activity.

  • What are the highlights of what happened?
  • What stands out about what you saw or heard?
  • What’s ringing in your ears?

3. What value are you taking away?

Help participants connect with what they value.

  • What was important about this activity?
  • What value did you get from this practice?
  • What shifts occurred in your thinking?

4. What did you learn?

In this phase, encourage participants to share their insights.

  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • What made the activity meaningful?
  • What metaphor captures your learning?

5. How can you connect this activity with your life?

Transfer the learning to your life or practice.

  • How can you apply your insights?
  • How will you change your behavior?
  • What’s next for you?

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