Debriefing: The Key to Effective Experiential Learning


  • Phillip L. Hunsaker


" An experiential learning exercise may be defined as a task designed to generate behavior which can be analyzed with respect to specific theories and goal accomplishment. The objectives for participants in such experiences include increasing (1) understanding of principles and theories as applied to concrete situations, including transfer to outside situations, (2) skills in certain interpersonal and decision making methods, (3) skills in observing and diagnosing behavioral phenomena, and (4) awareness of their own values, assumptions, and interpersonal strengths and weaknesses. Although opportunities exist for accomplishing all of the above objectives, participating in an experiential exercise does not guarantee that any learning at all will occur. Participants often become so involved, or have such a good time, that they fail to observe the lessons that could have been leaned. A similar outcome can occur when objectives and guides to leaning are unclear, or insufficient time is allowed for processing what happened during the exercise. The major opportunity for learning occurs through careful reflection and processing of the experiences as related to specific concepts and situations. In other words, all four phases of the leaning loop must be completed, i.e., the (1) experiences must he followed by a debriefing where participants (2) reflect and analyze what they did and felt, with respect to (3) existing concepts and new generalizations, so that they can (4) develop hypotheses to be tested in future experiences. Some ideas on how the facilitator can enhance this learning loop via the debriefing, are presented below. "