For Purposeful Learning, It’s All about the Questions (Part 1)

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In the August 2016 Chief Learning Officer Journal, Randy Emelo authors an article entitled, “Ask Me Anything: The Power of Questions in Learning”. This is our cliff notes and our additional comments.

 

Randy Emelo writes:

 

“Getting information quickly is the learning method of choice these days. But favoring quick hits over asking questions and putting some effort into figuring out the answers is detrimental for the employee and company.” He observes, “We have become an impatient society that expects everything to be available with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger. We can become quite indignant when this doesn’t happen. Worse, our impatience is inhibiting our ability to learn.”

 

“In order for meaningful learning to take place, people have to focus on process-oriented conversations and learning activities, rather than just outcome-oriented efforts…One way to accomplish this is to…focus more on asking questions.”

 

And we agree, for the most part. For a software company like ours, taking our time to get an answer isn’t always an option. People, including clients, expect us to know the answer—fast—probably because they have someone waiting on them, too. In some cases, the right answer can be gotten quickly—and should be. There are people waiting after all. But other answers need to be fleshed out. Tested. Re-tested. Re-worked. Just like new software versions or tools.

 

In our opinion, the following factors affect the process and speed at which the answer should be derived and are entirely dependent on the question being asked, which Emelo doesn’t address:

 

  1. If the question affects a repeatable process, it should take longer.

  2. If it affects a larger number of people, it should take longer (which sometimes feels the opposite of what actually happens because the larger the crowd awaiting an answer, the more the pressure builds).

  3. If it’s already been thoughtfully and succinctly answered (such as in a Chief Learning Officer or Harvard Business Review article or maybe a Ted Talk on YouTube), it should take less time to answer. In this case, the question quite possibly doesn’t need to be re-tested—why reinvent the proverbial wheel? It’s wise to learn from what others have spent their time thinking through. There’s a small risk that they may be wrong...but if it’s from a proven source, it’s likely good enough to try.

 

The concept of evaluating the source, accepting previously performed tests, re-tests, and re-working of a theory is how we evolve both as humans and as a company. Knowing how a question should be treated is a culture issue. Asking the right question is a skill to be developed in employees. And discerning the right answer is a priceless one.

 

The crux of the article comes when Emelo quotes Phil Antonelli, senior learning strategist at Xerox Learning Solutions: “In most cases, questioning skills are only taught when directly related to the business outcome.”

 

Now THIS is what needs to change—not only in corporate culture, but also in all arenas of education. Fostering curiosity should start at an early age to build on the already-existing inquisitive DNA and openness to learning that children start with. Teachers should be taught to “ask the right questions to drive action, help to influence others, support more meaningful developmental dialogue, and create more consequential learning activity.” Experimentation—bouncing ideas off one another, sharing of experiences, providing guidance to cohorts—should be utilized in all learning models.

 

All of the above reinforces what we’ve believed from the beginning: learning happens in relationships. These skills and purposeful learning thrive in a social and collaborative environment like Edvance360 LMS-SN, using mentoring, groups, question forums, and wikis.

 

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For more information on Edvance360’s collaborative history and tools, contact Cathy Garland at cathy.garland@edvance360.com.

 

For more information on this excellent article by Randy Emelo, click here. He continues the article with a four-step dialogue model that we will share in a follow-up blog post.