"Thinking on your feet": A qualitative study of debriefing practice

Kristian Krogh, Margaret Bearman, Debra Nestel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Background: Debriefing is a significant component of simulation-based education (SBE). Regardless of how and where immersive simulation is used to support learning, debriefing has a critical role to optimise learning outcomes. Although the literature describes different debriefing methods and approaches that constitute effective debriefing, there are discrepancies as to what is actually practised and how experts or experienced debriefers perceive and approach debriefing. This study sought to explore the self-reported practices of expert debriefers. Methods: We used a qualitative approach to explore experts’ debriefing practices. Peer-nominated expert debriefers who use immersive manikin-based simulations were identified in the healthcare simulation community across Australia. Twenty-four expert debriefers were purposively sampled to participate in semi-structured telephone interviews lasting 45–90 min. Interviews were transcribed and independently analysed using inductive thematic analysis. Results: Codes emerging through the data analysis clustered into four major categories: (1) Values: ideas and beliefs representing the fundamental principles that underpinned interviewees’ debriefing practices. (2) Artistry: debriefing practices which are dynamic and creative. (3) Techniques: the specific methods used by interviewees to promote a productive and safe learning environment. (4) Development: changes in interviewees’ debriefing practices over time. Conclusions: The “practice development triangle” inspired by the work of Handal and Lauvas offers a framework for our themes. A feature of the triangle is that the values of expert debriefers provide a foundation for associated artistry and techniques. This framework may provide a different emphasis for courses and programmes designed to support debriefing practices where microskill development is often privileged, especially those microskills associated with techniques (plan of action, creating a safe environment, managing learning objectives, promoting learner reflection and co-debriefing). Across the levels in the practice development triangle, the importance of continuing professional development is acknowledged. Strengths and limitations of the study are noted.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalAdvances in Simulation
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2016


  • debriefing
  • simulation-based education
  • blended approach to debriefing
  • faculty development

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