In my previous blog post, I discussed the use of games to flip training session and classes. Games are fun and interactive, and they can help your participants meet the learning outcomes in a different way.  Effective games can be almost magical in their ability to help learners think critically, assess their knowledge, and establish connections with the training materials or course content.  However, if you decide to use a game in your training session or class, it’s important to know how to end the game successfully to ensure learning occurred.  To do this, you must debrief the game with your learners. This is where you reveal the magic of the game.

After the game is complete, debriefing is the time you spend encouraging your participants to stop, reflect, analyze, and evaluate the activity to ensure they see the point of the game.  Sure, you can play a game just to play a game, but in educational and training sessions, we want those games to serve a purpose and to meet our learning goals.  The number one rule to remember when designing games is:  Participants do not learn from playing the game – they learn by reflecting on it. The learning occurs during the time when the game has ended and you, as the facilitator, are able to ask questions to help the participants make connections between the game and the learning goals. In essence, you are helping the participants learn by revealing the secrets behind the game.

When you debrief, be sure the game has come to a complete end.  At that time, prompt the participants to let them know that you are shifting from the playing of the game to the debriefing or reflection time.  Always begin by asking “What did we do?”  Participants usually answer “We played a game.”  At that point, you need to use probing questions to help the participants think more specifically. Ask them to describe what the game was, what the rules were, what role they played, how were teams formed, how decisions were made, how points were kept, etc.  The purpose here is to force the participants to step back from the game and starting looking at it from an outsider’s perspective.  At that point, you can then begin helping the participants fill in any gaps and make connections between the learning outcomes and the actual game. Reveal how the game demonstrated, reinforced, or assessed different aspects of your training session or course.  Hopefully, this is where the “ah ha!” moments will occur and your participants will see what they learned.

Debriefing is critical for those of us who teach or train using games.  However, if you teach using other types of active learning strategies, you should also engage in debriefing sessions as well.  Participants aren’t always aware of the learning when they’re in the middle of the activity which reinforces the importance of using debriefing and reflection to reveal the secrets of how the strategy helped them learn.