Tell Me About It: Learning Through Debriefing
We all have different ways that we prefer to learn – some of us are visual learners, some of us prefer auditory learning, and others learn best kinesthetically. In reality, learning is multi-modal which means that we will experience all of these learning styles through the process. This means that learning is truly abstract and complex. As a result, one of the best ways for us to process what we have learned is through thoughtful, purposeful, and concrete discussion practices.
If you’ve taken the time to explore our free online Activities Database you will have noticed that all of our teambuilding activities come with “Sample Debriefing Questions”. We do this very intentionally, with the hope that whenever anyone facilitates one of these activities they will also take the time to talk about it. David Kolb, one of the leading theorists behind modern experiential learning, believed that one of the key pieces in his learning cycle was time for reflection.
There are many ways to lead meaningful reflections, but our site and organization subscribe to a debriefing model founded in Kolb’s philosophy that asks three types of questions: What, So What, and Now What? These questions, posed in a discussion, help individuals and groups derive meaning and apply learning from their experiences.
Let’s break them down a little because each of these questions is important in their own way:
“What” questions ask groups to talk about what actually happened in their learning experience. This is often the first time that they will have the opportunity to step back and think about what transpired. With these questions, we are asking them to make specific observations about behavior, interactions, processes, and outcomes.
Sample Questions: What was the goal? What did we do well? How could we have improved? How did you make decisions?
“So What” questions help participants begin to interpret and apply meaning to what they have experienced. Essentially, these questions reflect on why what happened was important. This is when participants begin to have powerful “a-ha” moments – therefore, these questions should not be skipped!
Sample Questions: Why do you think that happened? How did that make you feel? Where else may we have seen this before?
“Now What” questions are the most important part of the debriefing process. These questions encourage participants to take what they learned from their experience and apply it to the future. This is vital because it is when group members begin to take actionable steps towards change, growth, and development. It’s exactly why experiential learning has value!
Sample Questions: What might we do differently moving forward? What are three lessons learned? What is one commitment each of us can make?
These questions are a helpful framework to guide meaningful discussion but really, when we strip away all of the technicalities, debriefing is just a conversation. We debrief all of the time in our personal and professional lives without even thinking about it – like when getting the details about a friend’s recent engagement or when mediating conflict between coworkers. The opportunities to debrief with our groups are everywhere – when brainstorming, after a meeting, when evaluating performance or when examining group dynamics, and of course, when teambuilding. We can maximize learning for our groups when we take advantage of these opportunities by giving time for thoughtful discussion.
My best advice is to simply have a genuine curiosity about the experiences of your team. When we wonder, we are inclined to ask questions, and those questions will help your group to process and learn big things together. That learning will propel your team forward with motivation, engagement, and a zest for more!
Practice debriefing with the What, So What, and Now What questions. You can use it as an opportunity to build in time for teambuilding with your group too! Try an activity like Zen Counting to discuss accountability or have a conversation about feedback with Back to Back Drawing. Start with our sample questions at the bottom of the page as a guide or spend time brainstorming your own to lead your discussion. Tell us how it goes and ask us questions in the comments!
*Meet the Author*
Caelan Cooney is another Millennial who wants ‘to make an impact’, a self-proclaimed movie critic, avid explorer, lifelong learner, and Chapman University graduate.