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Insights for eLearning from Debriefing Sessions in Outbound Training

Written By Shalini Merugu

Insights for eLearning from Debriefing Sessions in Outbound Training

I have very vivid memories of an outbound management training program I’d attended 10 years back that kind of revolutionized the way I think about training. For those new to this kind of concept of outbound training, here’s wiki’s definition – “Outbound Management Programs are a training method for enhancing organizational performance through experiential learning. Such programs are often also referred to as corporate adventure training and outdoor management development.”

A bunch of us from various cross-functional teams were thrown together in a 4-day management camp in a forest reserve. We were put through the grind, with individual activities such as rappelling that demanded some personal excellence (including overcoming our fears), as well as exceptional team work (through activities such as scaling a mini mountain as a team and boating).

With the challenging exercises the trainers had planned, there was a lot of learning and self-discovery and team spirit building that went on throughout the duration of the program. But the most important thing that made each learning ‘stick’ was the debriefing sessions at the end of every activity. Debriefing sessions would happen immediately after the event and what struck me even way back then was that the timeliness of the feedback was an important factor in enabling learners internalize the new learning. (In fact I recall a powerful debrief session on a rock at the end of a without-prior-notification, 4–mile, 4 a.m trek, with participants freezing and shivering, but eager to share and hear from others on the trek. If only it was so simple to motivate our eLearners!). The kind of probing questions that were asked by the skilled trainers drew out responses that encouraged learners to further reflect on their learning and think of applications of it in as many aspects of their work life as they could. These insights being shared in a group benefitted everyone attending these sessions.

Now cut back to eLearning and somehow the feedback or debriefing seems somewhat lame most times. A ‘good you’re on the right track’ and a ‘sorry, that’s incorrect. Here’s the correct answer’ doesn’t cut it. So is something like this the kind of debriefing on the outbound training I mentioned even possible in asynchronous eLearning? Or as a continuation of learning beyond the course?

Some thoughts…Many top-of-the-breed LMSs offer collaborative features – we could tap the potential of this as a continuation of self-paced learning. On the other hand, we could have a feature for notes inbuilt within our courses, so that during a virtual debrief (hopefully the kind that helps learners to think of the learning actively) after practice quiz exercises, learners can be encouraged to reflect on their learning (even if they got the correct answers on the quiz) and capture these reflections, which in turn could be consolidated by training administrators and sent across to all learners who take a course. This could be one way of ensuring that individual insights can be leveraged by a wider group. Many courses have an inbuilt functionality of mailing an expert. I feel that we can use this for this kind of reflective learning, where learners are asked questions on where they think they could apply learning. The ‘expert to whom all these mails are sent to can consolidate this and share it on a threaded discussion forum where others can comment and learn from each other.

The most important takeaway for me at the end of that outbound training session was that learning was not an event – it was a process and debriefing sessions helped do that.

View Presentation On Experiential Learning - An Effective Learning Method

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  • Kaushilya Weerapura

    Debriefing in learning is not a new concept; it is a new term – which could be an excellent learning reinforcement or a dangerous misguiding tool.

    I strongly believe, debriefing sessions should be moderated by a knowledgeable host. Since there is less accountability involved, people shoot whatever that pops into their heads which could mislead the “less-known” – a common phenomenon I see happening in collaborative platforms.

    Further, I have been a victim of the situation and it would take awhile to get rid of those distorted or mislead concepts. The worst is, if you are supper unlucky, you might hold on to them forever.

  • True Kaushilya, debriefing as a concept has been around forever. I totally agree with you that these sessions need to be handled by experienced trainers. In fact one of the reasons I love self paced eLearning courses (asynchronous) is because it doesn’t leave the learner at the mercy of incompetent trainers or instructors who do more harm than good.

    On a related note and in the eLearning context, do check out this post ‘First do no harm’ and let me know what you think: http://blog.commlabindia.com/elearning/instructional-design-basic-principles