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Debrief Activities Because Adults Need Virtual Learning That Sticks

Debrief Activities Because Adults Need Virtual Learning That Sticks

We’ve been using virtual classroom technologies for more than 20 years now. Unfortunately, we are still holding on to a content model that insists the most important outcome is getting through all of the slides, while underwhelming learners and not creating real learning. 

This webinar approach to content delivery is perhaps the most ineffective way to get information out to the world. It's emotionally disengaging - few of us have the motivation or concentration to focus on 60 minutes of lecture.  

And, most importantly, we know that learning only "sticks" after learners have a chance to apply what they’ve learned and then reflect on the experience. That's when curiosity is stimulated and intellectual engagement is maximized. It aligns with adult learning theory. Including debrief activities for adults is especially important - when we know content is relevant and that our opinions are valued, we really start to pay attention.

What are debrief activities for and why are they important ?

Reflection can occur in the virtual classroom. One of the most impactful ways to accomplish this is by conducting a thoughtful and meaningful debrief after practice activities.

Debriefing is where the real learning takes place. It’s where the proverbial "rubber meets the road," because it allows for reflection and also starts to instill a sense of accountability in the learners.


Debriefing allows learners to process:

  • what they just did,
  • in context with any content that may have been delivered,
  • and connect it to real work.

Connecting learning to real work applications is the foundation of modern learning design. It demonstrates relevance to adult learners, which can be very motivating to learners who would otherwise struggle through lecture heavy content. And, it’s that connection that makes the learning stick.

Debrief Questions for Group Activities

Following key pieces of the content or breakout sessions, you need to break the ice with questions. Usually learners will be forthright with their discussion.

Ask questions like:

  • How did you feel during the activity? And, how do you feel now?
  • Were there any challenging parts? How did you get through it?
  • Did you define roles within the group?
  • What positives can you take away from the activity?
  • What are some negatives? How would you combat those in the workplace?
  • What would you do differently next time?

Debriefing Individually

While connecting to the outside world, effective debriefs also insist that learners look inward. They need to ask questions of themselves such as:

  • "How did I use the tools that were provided and when might I use them back on the job?"
  • "What did I struggle with, and what would lessen that struggle?"
  • "What was missing?"
  • "When might I use this technique or tool or concept in the future?"

As your learners find answers to these questions, they start to see the application of the tool or the technique or the content back on the job. By practicing and reflecting on content, you increase the chances that learners will be successful back on the job when recalling what they’ve learned or when things go wrong. 


Here is a list of common, yet powerful, debriefing techniques that you can use in your virtual classroom. Try them all. Some are meant to debrief simple activities; some are more complex.

Debrief Activities that Work in Virtual Training

Gallery Walk

Learners walk through the work produced by their peers and are asked to:

  • draw conclusions,
  • make observations,
  • or acknowledge something new.

Pair & Share

Learners are paired up to share ideas and/or brainstorm. They may be asked to come to a consensus or limit discussion to an idea-generating activity.

Each pair shares what they worked on.

Share Out

Each group is given an opportunity to “share out” the results of their group activity with the rest of the class.


This is a great way to debrief a jigsaw activity. A jigsaw activity is an activity where each group is doing something different (i.e., researching different aspects of a problem, developing different parts to a business plan, or building different modules to a course, etc.).

Groups then come together with the rest of the class and each learner shares what was learned, discovered, or developed, etc.

In doing so, they teach the other groups. Each group learns something new and different from the other groups. When all of the groups come together, they complete the puzzle!

Quick Toss

The facilitator randomly calls on learners (or tosses them the ball, so to speak), and asks them to share the results of their work. This method can be used for both independent and group activities.

Some debrief (using any technique  above) is necessary for learning to stick. If you start running short on time, skip some content, but don't skip the debrief. It’s better to internalize a small amount of information than to gloss over a longer lecture.

Download Infographic - Don't Skip the Debrief


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