Debriefing Simulations and Games : LUSENET : Learning by Doing : One Thread

Let's use this space to assemble some advice/guidance re: debriefing simulations and games. What can you add to the following?

Debriefing Simulations and Games

The discussion, or debriefing, after a game or simulation is as important as playing it. Without this step, individuals have only the pieces of the experience that they were involved in, not the total picture. They may have unresolved feelings related to their roles and what happened to them, which may be unsettling. They may not get the point: Why was training time spent on the activity? What does the activity have to do with their work?

Debriefing often takes as long as playing the game, or at least one third of the total time spent on the activity. Many experienced simulation and game users feel it is unethical to short change the debriefing of a game.

Here are two different approaches to debriefing.

DATA Model This model, based on work of Sandra Mumford Fowler and Barbara Steinwachs, has four phases of the debriefing:

Description: Participants are asked to describe what happened. This may be done by groups that functioned within the game or by individuals, in structured ways (creating a matrix of observations, for example) or by responding to questions. Both emotions and facts may evolve; the events producing the reactions need to be brought out. This phase helps participant see that many different things occurred, not just their part.

Analysis: Participants are lead to explore more deeply, looking for why events happened as they did, and what were the elements of the model they were exploring. This phase is more conceptual, more cognitive; it helps everyone understand the whole of the puzzle, not just the part they played or experienced.

Transition: Participants are asked to explore parallels between the game experience and life experiences. This exploration includes both the elements that are similar, and the fact that games select from and simply complex situations in order to allow participants to experience new roles, feelings, situations, and/or practice behaviors that are needed in real life situations.

Application: Participants are encouraged to apply the insights gained from the simulation or game to their work, lives. They consider practical applications in terms of attitudes, behaviors, or strategies that might be appropriate and useful.

Affective/Cognitive/What If Model Thiagi suggests a three-step debrief:

Affective: Before looking at the facts, check out participants feelings. Begin with some statements about how during the game participants may have experienced some strong feelings: anger, frustration, joy, sadness, pride. Encourage them to share their own. Empathize but not do psychoanalyze! If emotions run very high, take a break after this phase.

Cognitive: Elicit the facts: what happened? What were the rules, events? What was being explored? How does the experience relate to real life experiences? What was learned, can be generalized?

What if?: This phase helps participants think beyond the simplified situation that was simulated: What if the teams represented departments in the organization? Or competing businesses? What if the rewards were greater? What if the rules were more complicated?

General Tendencies

Trainers may structure the debriefing too much. It is useful to have a series of questions, but it is important to build on what is being said.

Every possible aspect of the experience cannot be explored; it would take too long. The trainer needs to pick a few things to highlight during the debriefing, and perhaps refer to others during the course of the training program. Avoid telling participants what they have learned.

Participants may continually refocus on emotions. Once an opportunity to express feelings has been provided, move beyond them. It may be necessary to ask people to physically change seats, take off hats or other indicators of roles in the game, or change seats.

Wrap up the debriefing by noting that simulations and games offer opportunities to try out new behaviors as well as use their usual ones. What they can do is reflect on their behaviors and feelings and use what they have learned.

-- Michael Berney (, February 28, 2000


I will also look for a piece on using video in debriefing a simulation, which might be of interest to individuals who have access to videorecording equipment

-- Michael Berney (, February 29, 2000.

If we don't get a direct response from Larry, I will summarize the points in a debriefing piece he sent to me to be added to the above. Basically he suggested another 3-part debrief sequence. I will check again tomorrow.

-- Judee Blohm (, February 29, 2000.

Michael: Please add this third alternative for debriefing sequences. I have extracted this from a longer piece Larry sent to me. Once this is integrated into the body of the handout, and our names are added to the bottom, I feel this piece is done.

A third debriefing sequence, from Rohnke, Cowtails and Cobras II, uses three questions:

What? In addition to what happened, this focuses on what the participants (or groups, if the group is the focus)did well. Each participant or group may be asked to contribute a sentence or a phrase. A method for rating performance may be used, such as voting with thumbs up or down or giving letter grades, if performance is the focus and continue to be discussed in the next steps.

So what? Discussion in this phase focuses on what the group is learning from the experience, its meaning and potential consequences.

Now what? This phases addresses what they learned that they can carry into exisiting or new situations.

-- Judee Blohm (, March 03, 2000.

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