People don’t learn from experience; they learn from reflecting on their experience.

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I am a firm believer that activities alone are not enough for most training participants to extract meaningful learning that they can then apply to the real world. In my view, activities are are just an excuse for a good debriefing discussion, not the other way around. This is why when our clients ask us whether their participants will play games, my answer is always “No, but they will participate in experiential activities from which they will be able to extract learning.”

Personally, I still think that Thiagis 6 phases of Debriefing is the best way to structure this eminently important aspect of effective training. Here are the 6 phases below

Phase 1: How Do You Feel?

This phase gives the participants an opportunity to get strong feelings and emotion off their chest. It makes it easier for them to be more objective during the later phases.

Begin this phase with a broad question that invites the participants to get in touch with their feelings about the activity and its outcomes. Encourage them to share these feelings, listening actively to one another in a nonjudgmental fashion.

Phase 2: What Happened?

In this phase, collect data about what happened during the activity. Encourage the participants to compare and contrast their recollections and to draw general conclusions during the next phase.

Begin this phase with a broad question that asks the participants to recall important events from the training activity. Create and post a chronological list of events. Ask questions about specific events.

Phase 3: What Did You Learn?

In this phase, encourage the participants to generate and test different hypotheses. Ask the participants to come up with principles based on the activity and discuss them.

Begin this phase by presenting a principle and asking the participants for data that supports or rejects it. Then invite the participants to offer other principles based on their experiences.

Phase 4: How Does This Relate To The Real World?

In this phase, discuss the relevance of the activity to the participants’ real-world experiences.

Begin with a broad question about the relationship between the experiential learning activity and events in the workplace. Suggest that the activity is a metaphor and ask participants to offer real-world analogies.

Phase 5: What If?

In this phase, encourage the participants to apply their insights to new contexts. Use alternative scenarios to speculate on how people’s behaviors would change.

Begin this phase with a change scenario and ask the participants to speculate on how it would have affected the process and the outcomes of the activity. Then invite the participants to offer their own scenarios and discuss them.

Phase 6: What Next?

In this phase, ask the participants to undertake action planning. Ask them to apply their insights from the experiential activity to the real world.

Begin this phase by asking the participants to suggest strategies for use in future rounds of the activity. Then ask the participants how they will change their real-world behavior as a result of the insights gained from the activity.

Honestly, anyone with decent presentation skills and a bit of common sense can conduct a training program, and give participants a good time but that has never made it a relevant learning experience. Professional trainers focus on the discussions that they facilitate for learners to extract their own learning, and that is a skill that needs to be developed over time.

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6 Responses to People don’t learn from experience; they learn from reflecting on their experience.

  1. Arie Baan says:

    Great post, Guillaume! I have been running my debriefings intuitively in this way, but you present a useful and workable framework that will me to do it with more effect.

    Arie Baan – The Hague / The Netherlands

  2. This is really helpful to me in another context — thank you so much. I am looking for effective ways to enable teams to reflect within the moment of practice, rather than to reflect afterwards, when the recollection of the experience is inevitably adjusted by the impact of the outcome.

    Nice blog.

  3. Roland Livingston says:

    Guillaume, I appreciate this posting. I have been conducting training programs for a number of years and this is the first time I have seen such a cogent approach to debriefing the experience. I plan to use it on my next training program.

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