The art of questioning tips

The Art of Questioning

In this post, I continue my sharing on how to create an exciting blended course with just the right quiz questions to stimulate learning. This post is part of a series on creating personalized, online & offline learning that modern students crave – I call this method, Backyard Blended Learning.

Backyard blended learning series
Many online courses have quizzes – lots of quizzes – as the main engagement piece. While it is not always good to have quizzes as the only interaction, quizzes, or more so questions, are great ways to turn the focus on the learner and have them think about the content. It gives them time to actively engage with the content rather than passively digest it.

I want to share an important part of teaching… asking good questions. This is not always easy. It actually takes effort to write good questions that hit the following marks:

  1. Questions that are timed right to help build learning and test student’s new thinking in chunks (i.e. not asking only a few questions after a number of modules)
  2. Questions that relate to what was taught not implied in the content (i.e. questions are concrete and not whimsical)
  3. Questions that ask at a level of understanding that is not insulting or redundant (i.e. silly questions vs more significant ones)
  4. Questions that help develop the learner’s understanding by providing rich feedback (i.e. becomes a learning moment)
  5. Questions are provided in many forms, not just within quizzes (i.e. ask when it needs to be asked within the content)

Timing of Questions

Let’s say I am teaching you about financial forecasting for your business and how to produce forecasts for the next one, two and five years. In one particular lesson, I talk about inflation and how that will impact your revenue and expenses in the near future, and which needs to be accounted for.

I provide you with some assumed inflation rates, examples on how to apply them to your projections along with some advice on managing the impact of inflation.

After having you consume information for about 30 minutes on this topic (whether listening, watching or reading content) I want to stop to ensure you have understood the basics, and also give your brain a break to digest the concepts.
Notice the timing and intent of the questioning.

Relevant Questions

I’ve decided to give a short 10-question quiz during this break in the learning. Therefore, I comb through the content and pull out important points I want learners to get. If they miss these pieces of the puzzle they will struggle with the rest of the lessons.

Notice what I will question them on.

The questions will be quite concrete and something they learned, not something I didn’t teach (remember those quizzes in school that were super frustrating and made us feel like failures :0)

For example, the following would be a useless and unanswerable question: What do you think is the purpose of inflation?

(Who cares! This isn’t an economic course, it’s a financial management course about reality. And I didn’t teach that.)

Sophisticated Questions

If someone is taking financial management I assume they are serious thinkers who want to excel in their business. I mean, who else would take a course on money and numbers?

When I teach them, I also need to consider that my questionings are of the same tone and intent as the content. Otherwise, it creates a disconnect with their learning experience.

For instance, I might question them on the following: What is a main indicator you can watch in the world around you that might trigger a higher than expected inflation rate? Choose one answer.

This is far more sophisticated and provoking than the following question: Does inflation affect both your revenue and your expenses? True or false? (Duh, true.)

The last question is completely useless in terms of testing their knowledge, helping them to see what is important to remember and providing them the correct answer.

Teaching with Feedback

Please know that it takes time to build knowledge in our brain (cognition) and that new info is stacked on top of our previous knowledge to develop understanding.

So, if we load a bunch of information onto our students we need to pace the learning, and stop to ensure they have formed this new knowledge correctly; otherwise, they will be building the wrong Leggo piece or a crazily designed one.

And when we are new to an idea that doesn’t match any older stored information, we can become quite confused. This is why it’s best to stop and check understanding. Unless of course, you are born a genius that absorbs high levels of information like a 6-foot sea sponge.

To enrich learning even more during a questioning period, provide feedback. For instance, add another 1 or 2 lines about why an answer is correct or not correct. That is, when a student submits a quiz question or entire quiz, I provide feedback on all the right answers and why.
Again, this becomes the perfect teachable and learning moment where I have their attention as they actively engage.

Questions in Different Forms

Don’t make the mistake of burdening your students with quiz after quiz. I have found that about 50% of students enjoy taking quizzes, whereas the other half skip them.

Therefore, sprinkle meaningful questions throughout your course in these formats:

  • Insert a lofty reflective question somewhere in the content for them to ponder on their own.
  • Share a debate question and have learners engage in an online forum and choose the PRO or CON side.• Ask them a relevant question to unlock the next lesson.
  • Create a quick video of you answering a typical question on a topic that usually causes confusion.
  • Create a short checklist of questions that if answered will help them build something.
  • Question them on a case study and what they would do. Have them submit their answer via a Twitter hashtag or Facebook group to engage with others.
  • Ask the class a sophisticated question and have them email the answer to you and choose a winner with the best answer.
    In short, get creative with how you deliver questions.

Summary

Questions have a distinct purpose in learning. When you ask questions, what you ask and how you ask them should match the intention of the course and always provide another layer of learning.

In the field of education it is stated: Assessment is for, as and of learning. Meaning that assessments or quizzing of any kind are to help improve student learning, not just grade them.

It takes time and effort to build this layer of learning, but it’s worth it and students will value the mental break from the content and given time to ponder.