One of the commentors on “10 Ways to Be a Better Learner: No. 3 – Ask Questions” raised the question (!) of how to ask good questions. Serendipitously, as I was doing some research on note-taking, I noticed that Fiona McPherson (who long time readers may remember from the About Memory podcasts a while back) has a post titled “Asking Better Questions.” In it, she highlights three key decision points for determining whether a question is effective:
I particularly like the last one. While Fiona, in the context of this post, is referring primarily to connections between concepts, ideas, and information, questions are also an essential tool in forming connections to more meaningful learning networks.
I highly recommend reading the full Asking Better Questions post. In it, Fiona goes through a range of “Why?” questions that might be asked based on a set of initial facts and then critiques these questions. (Note: When she writes “Look again at our original questions,” make sure you do it. A quick review of the earlier post in which the “original questions” appear makes the “Asking Better Questions” post a lot clearer.)
Given my repeated focus on asking “Why?” here on Mission to Learn, I’ll wrap up by highlighting an important point that Fiona makes about “why” questions:
Why questions, like any questions, are only effective to the extent that they direct attention to appropriate information.
Research confirms that it is better to search for consistent relations than inconsistent ones. In many cases your background knowledge may include information that is consistent with the new information, and information that is inconsistent.
By asking “Why is this true?” you focus on the consistent information.
Now – go read Fiona’s post. Why wouldn’t you?