Simulation debriefing: applying Kolb's model of experiential learning to improve classroom practices




Wighton, David James

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debriefing activity to be vital, no empirical studies have supported that contention, in an attempt to resolve this contradiction, this study examined the effect of a computer simulation and debriefing unit on student achievement and attitude. The design of the debriefing activities was based on Kolb's Model of Experiential Learning. After attrition, the study sample consisted of 16 grade 5 classes (347 students), drawn from both rural and urban schools and assigned randomly to nine groups. Seven of these groups took part in a computer-based simulation for 10 class periods and then received from 1 to 6 additional debriefing periods, depending upon their treatment group. There were two control groups-one which participated in simulation activities only ("Non-debriefed") and one which had no exposure to the learning materials ("Nil Exposure"). Quantitative data were collected on students' achievement and attitudinal development at the end of the unit and one month afterwards. Qualitative data were also obtained from students and teachers. Several patterns of significant results were found. On both the immediate and retention sets of achievement and attitude measures, every experimental group scored significantly higher (p < .001) than the nil exposure control group, thus attesting to the general pedagogical value of the unit. With respect to the attitude measures, no relationship was found between debriefing activities and scores on these surveys. Achievement test results revealed that: (a) Students receiving debriefing scored significantly higher (majority at p < .001) than the non-debriefed control group: (b) every group which engaged in analytical debriefing (Kolb's Abstract Conceptualization stage), either separately or in conjunction with some other activity, attained scores that were superior to the other debriefing groups; (c) there was no definite relationship between achievement scores and debriefing activities based on Kolb's other stages; and (d) similar patterns of significance were found in both the immediate and retention tests. Qualitative data revealed that the general reaction of students and teachers to the unit was very positive. Also, simulation play was characterized by an extremely high degree of student involvement. Although Kolb’s model of experiential learning was not fully supported by the results of this study, nevertheless, its use in structuring debriefing activities does show promise. Further research is needed to determine if the relationships between achievement and Kolb's stages vary by type of simulation, age of student, design of unit, etc. Furthermore, although there was no evidence that debriefing influenced student attitudes, the characteristics of this specific study (e.g., amount of exposure to the materials) may have contributed to that outcome. The results from this study suggest that debriefing does increase the learning that can be gained from simulations, thus supporting the arguments from practitioners that debriefing must be used if a simulation is to be fully effective. Furthermore, the results from this study reduce the value of much of the previous research comparing simulations to other forms of instruction. Results from that research have generally been inconclusive and/or disappointing. However, since, in most of those studies, students only played the simulation and did not engage in any debriefing, it now appears that researchers may not have utilized the full potential of the simulation mode. The simulation may be more powerful than suggested by previous research.



Education, Simulation methods, Learning, simulation methods, Learning, Psychology of