Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Document Type


Date Created


Embargo Date



Wilk, Adrienne Denise. Implementing theory-based debriefing in the clinical learning environment to improve teaching and learning outcomes. Published Doctor of Philosophy dissertation, University of Northern Colorado, 2022.

For decades, the hallmark of nursing education has been experiential learning in a hands-on clinical environment (Kolb, 1984), allowing students to utilize clinical reasoning and decision-making skills and apply theoretical knowledge to patient encounters (Gubrud-Howe, 2020). To optimize student learning, nurse educators must develop skills to implement teaching methods that promote higher-level reasoning skills in students. One teaching method that is useful in the clinical setting and promotes higher-level reasoning is debriefing. While there were robust findings in the literature about debriefing simulated clinical experiences and the positive effect these had on students’ learning and reasoning (Cantrell, 2008; Dreifuerst, 2012; Forneris et al., 2015; Levett-Jones & Lapkin, 2014; Mariani et al., 2013), little is known about whether post-clinical debriefings have similar learning outcomes. To further explore the use of theoretical debriefing in an actual clinical environment, this study used transformational learning theory and the debriefing for meaningful learning conceptual framework to examine the variables of effectiveness and importance of theory-based debriefing compared to atheoretical debriefing.

A convenience sample of 52 associate degree nursing students participated in this study using a quasi-experimental, one-group, pretest/posttest methodology. Variables were measured using the Debriefing Experience Scale (Reed, 2012) and analyzed using a matched-pairs t test and Wilcoxon signed-ranks test. The results were consistent with existing simulation literature that theoretical debriefing was significantly related to student perceptions of debriefing effectiveness. However, theoretical debriefing did not contribute to significantly different student perceptions of debriefing component importance. The study findings contributed to existing nursing education literature on debriefing in clinical learning and expanded on previous work articulating the need for debriefing to develop across the nursing curriculum. Future studies with diverse participant demographics, multiple sites, and a mixed-methods design are needed to investigate further the role of theory-based debriefing on students’ clinical reasoning ability.

Abstract Format



Clinical Instruction; Debriefing; Reflection; Feedback

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Copyright is held by the author.