The way we educate nurses has changed. Traditional clinicals and labs have evolved as many of today’s institutions have incorporated simulation to provide learners a safe and risk-free environment in which to practice their skills. In many cases, debriefing has also gone virtual. Although it can be logistically challenging, debriefing is a critical component of the learning process because it offers unique opportunities to digest and absorb the experience.

Recent studies have shown what nurse educators know from personal experience: debriefing is one of the most important aspects of simulation because it allows participants to “reflect, understand, analyze and synthesize what they thought, felt and did during the simulation.” Yet, very little is known about debriefing in a virtual environment, and INACSL’s healthcare standards of best practice don’t fully address the nuances between debriefing in a synchronous or asynchronous modality.

While in-person debriefing has long been considered the gold standard following simulation, research has shown that asynchronous virtual debriefing sessions can be just as effective. This is critical as nursing education continues to shift more toward asynchronous learning. To ensure your students get as much from the debriefing experience as possible, here are six considerations:

  1. Effective debriefing requires a psychologically safe environment. Instructors must clearly establish their time with students as a “judgement-free zone” where learners can engage in open communication and contribute actively without the risk of repercussions.
  2. The basic assumption of debriefing is that every student is capable of success. If we accept our students did their best, we can help them learn from their mistakes. I have found one of the best ways to facilitate this is by using supportive language instead of probing, accusatory language. Use phrases such as “I’m curious…” rather than asking “Why did you…”
  3. Creating a safe space can be challenging when conducting a virtual debrief. Learners tend to feel raw and vulnerable, especially if they did not perform well, and these emotions are often amplified in virtual, asynchronous situations. Encourage students to go to a private place where they will not be interrupted during the session and select a neutral background so that others are not distracted by their surroundings.
  4. Capturing immediate reactions are vital to the debriefing experience. To keep students engaged in this rich experience, successful facilitators adapt techniques to actively close the learning gap. One of the most successful strategies surveys students immediately following simulation to capture the raw experience with a formal debrief that follows later. Facilitators find this technique incredibly valuable because the time lapse gives learners the opportunity to reflect on their performance.
  5. Self-reflection is not innate. When you have a student who can learn from their errors, understand the correct procedure, and then apply that knowledge to the clinical setting – that’s gold. There is nothing better than seeing a student discover their “aha!” moment.
  6. Facilitators should always be learning. As educators, we need to practice our craft. A savvy debriefer knows how to adapt the session to the learner and the learning objectives. They are able to control the situation and find balance, allowing everyone to participate and contribute.

Join me on February 1 at 2:00 p.m. EDT, when I am joined by Centennial College Professor of Nursing Marg Verkuyl NP, PNH, MN as we discuss in greater detail Virtual Simulation: The future of debriefing. This is the second presentation in our The Best Practice: Nursing Simulation Expert Roundtable, in partnership with This free quarterly webinar series is presented by Sentinel U and, the world’s premiere healthcare simulation resource website.

For more information visit