Debriefing is an experience that enables participants to connect activities and lessons they learned in an activity, experience, or program, to the outside world.
When Does Debriefing Take Place?
Debriefing may take place at the end of any activity or experience, including at the end of a segment of an experience, or the end of a series of activities. There is not one perfect time to debrief, or a set guidelines for how long each debrief should last. JUMP! recommends varying debrief strategies, and using activities that give participants the knowledge and power to take the lead in their debriefing process.
What are the Benefits of Debriefing?
David Kolb, an American educational theorist and one of the forefathers of experiential education philosophy, believed that in order to truly learn from experience there must be time for reflection.
Debriefing is a core component of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle. By reflecting on, and recognizing the knowledge, skills and attitudes used in an experience, participants develop personal awareness and insight and become aware of the inner resources that they can access in future experiences.
Experiential activities provide a lot of discussion points. However, it’s important to remember that if post-activity debriefs are not structured properly they may not be effective, and opportunities for learning may not surface.
In order to maximize the benefits of experiential activities, and enable participants learning and development through the process, it’s helpful to follow a three step model for how to ask debrief questions: What? So What? Now What? Schoel, Prouty, & Radcliffe, 1988).
Here are some notes about this process, directly from Schoel, prouty, & Radcliffe’s 1988 book Islands of healing: A guide to Adventure Based Counselling.
- The What
Purpose: Review the activity to collect data of what happened
Explanation: The intention is to draw out as much information as possible from the group in order to refer back to it later on in the discussion. From this foundation of what happened, the facilitator can guide the discussion forward into greater understanding of the experience, and help draw out the learning from it.
Example Questions: What happened? What took place during that activity? What did you observe?
- The So What
Purpose: Look at details and interpret the data to draw out the significance of the activity in order to gain insight
Explanation: Moving from the descriptive and observable to the interpretive, the intention is to draw more meaning of what happened, and/or how it happened as well as to “unpack” the more subtle levels of what took place.
Example questions: How was your communication? What contributed to your team’s success? What role did you play in the group during the activity?
- The Now What?
Purpose: Bridge from recent experience to future experience
Explanation: In order for what has just taken place to have significance or impact, the ‘now what’ questions get the participants to think ahead and possibly apply what they have learnt. It may also be appropriate for participants to look at what has just taken place on a metaphoric level and draw meaning or insight in that way.
Schoel, J., Prouty, D., & Radcliffe, P. (1988). Islands of healing: A guide to adventure based counseling. Hamilton, MA: Project Adventure.
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.