Debriefing: Why do we use it?

Do you use debriefing in your unit? How have you used it? Have you found it to be a successful strategy?

There are various claims about the effectiveness of debriefing for achieving a variety of learning outcomes. In Learning through Participation (LTP), where students undertake some kind of industry internship or project work with a community organisation (such as through the PACE program), debriefing has been credited with fostering better knowledge acquisition and retention, skill improvements, heightened perceptions of self-competence, and attitudinal changes among other benefits (e.g. Chronister & Brown, 2012).

Isn’t debriefing and reflection the same thing? What’s the difference?

There is some disagreement about the relationship between debriefing and reflective practice. Reflective practice is a core requirement of PACE units at Macquarie, with students expected to reflect, document, evaluate, and/or critically analyse what they have learned during their PACE activity. Sometimes reflective practice is viewed as part of debriefing. Allan (2011), for example, sees debriefing as a “mixture of reflecting and teaching” (p. 2). At other times debriefing is seen as part of reflection.

The one thing that is agreed upon (and supported by research!) is that undertaking an LTP experience does not guarantee learning – strategies such as debriefing and/or reflective practice are needed to promote it (e.g. Shinnick et al., 2011). It is not clear from available literature how debriefing impacts on the achievement of particular learning outcomes, but it is considered an important strategy to help students draw links between theory and practice, explore their reactions to events, and develop new skills.

The LTC PACE team are undertaking a research project, “Promoting Learning by Debriefing”, to explore these and other questions. Academics, professional staff, and host/workplace supervisors are being sought to participate in 30 minute interviews to discuss their experiences of debriefing.  If you would like to be involved, please contact Anna Rowe (

Want to know more?

An annotated bibliography of key literature (empirical research, conceptual, and practice based works) related to debriefing has been developed and is now available on the LTC website. This resource is an excellent starting point for finding out more about debriefing in LTP!

Anna Rowe and Theresa Winchester-Seeto