Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Remember the Debrief…Even in eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

In instructor-led training, post-activity debriefing discussions seem to occur naturally.

Instructional designers know to follow an activity with discussion questions that prompt learners to reflect on what they learned, justify why they made certain decisions during the activity, consider alternatives, and relate it all to their jobs. Facilitator guides tend to include questions along these lines.

Regardless of whether these questions appear in a guide, most seasoned trainers have the experience to recognize the value in debriefing an activity and the skill to facilitate it.

How does a debrief add value?

For starters, asking learners to explain the logic they applied during an activity can help validate that they “got it” (as opposed to making a few lucky guesses). Revisiting that logic also helps reinforce it, increasing the likelihood that learners will recall and replicate the logic or procedure later.

Debriefing also offers an efficient way to explore variations of a situation, by posing “what if” questions. This challenges learners to apply a concept in additional ways, which deepens their understanding without repeating the entire activity for each variation.

Should debriefing occur in eLearning?

Yes! If you have a lesson that asks learners to work through an in-depth scenario or complete several short scenarios, a debrief is likely to enhance learning.

Though unfortunately, the debrief is often missed. Many eLearning lessons follow an activity with a few knowledge check questions that quiz learners on content; however, they lack questions that debrief an experience by prompting reflection.

How can we include debriefing experiences in eLearning?

Slides with text boxes can work well here. That way you can ask open-ended questions and provide space for learners to record as much or as little as they desire. If your authoring tool allows you detect keywords in learners’ responses, you can shape the slide’s feedback to commend or coach learners on key points as appropriate. Even without the ability to detect keywords, a one-size-fits-all feedback response can present learners with potential ideas to compare their responses to.

In some instances, multiple choice or multiple response questions can help debrief an activity. You might use these question types to prompt learners to identify when they would apply content on the job or to rate their confidence levels on various aspects of the content.

A debrief also opens the door to manager involvement. For instance, you might provide learners with debriefing questions to think about, letting them know that their managers will schedule time soon to discuss their ideas. Alternatively, a lesson might prompt learners to discuss their responses using social media or in a brief virtual session with a facilitator.

How do you design debriefs in eLearning?

What methods do you use to debrief learners after activities in an eLearning lesson, to prompt reflection and cement learning? What challenges have you encountered? Please share!

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