The Role of Debriefing in Simulation-Based Learning


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Excerpt

The aim of this paper is to critically review what is felt to be important about the role of debriefing in the field of simulation-based learning, how it has come about and developed over time, and the different styles or approaches that are used and how effective the process is. A recent systematic review of high fidelity simulation literature identified feedback (including debriefing) as the most important feature of simulation-based medical education.1 Despite this, there are surprisingly few papers in the peer-reviewed literature to illustrate how to debrief, how to teach or learn to debrief, what methods of debriefing exist and how effective they are at achieving learning objectives and goals.This review is by no means a systematic review of all the literature available on debriefing, and contains information from both peer and nonpeer reviewed sources such as meeting abstracts and presentations from within the medical field and other disciplines versed in the practice of debriefing such as military, psychology, and business. It also contains many examples of what expert facilitators have learned over years of practice in the area. We feel this would be of interest to novices in the field as an introduction to debriefing, and to experts to illustrate the gaps that currently exist, which might be addressed in further research within the medical simulation community and in collaborative ventures between other disciplines experienced in the art of debriefing.THE BACKGROUND OF SIMULATION-BASED LEARNINGGenerally, in simulation-based learning, we are dealing with educating the adult professional. Adult learning provides many challenges not seen in the typical student population. Adults arrive complete with a set of previous life experiences and frames (“knowledge assumptions, feelings”), ingrained personality traits, and relationship patterns, which drive their actions.2 Adult learners become more self-directed as they mature. They like their learning to be problem centered and meaningful to their life situation, and learn best when they can immediately apply what they have learned.3 Their attitudes towards any specific learning opportunity will vary and depend on factors such as their motivation for attending training, on whether it is voluntary or mandatory, and whether participation is linked directly to recertification or job retention. Traditional teaching methods based on linear communication models (ie, a teacher imparts facts to the student in a unidirectional manner) are not particularly effective in adult learning, and may be even less so in team-oriented training exercises. The estimated half-life of professional knowledge gained through such formal education may be as little as 2 to 2.5 years.4 In the case of activities requiring both formal knowledge and a core set of skills, such as Advanced Cardiac Life Support, retention can be as little as 6 to 12 months.5,6Much of the research in teaching adults indicates that active “participation” is an important factor in increasing the effectiveness of learning in this population.7 In fact, in any given curriculum, learning occurs not only by the formal curriculum per se but informally through personalized teaching methods (informal curricula), and even more so through embedded cultures and structures within the organization (hidden curricula).8Adults learn best when they are actively engaged in the process, participate, play a role, and experience not only concrete events in a cognitive fashion, but also transactional events in an emotional fashion. The learner must make sense of the events experienced in terms of their own world. The combination of actively experiencing something, particularly if it is accompanied by intense emotions, may result in long-lasting learning.

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