I Have A Question

Hands up in a classroom

Interaction in the classroom is an important part of successfully imparting knowledge and skills, and one particular form of interaction is questioning. Questions in the classroom flow in two directions – questions from you, the trainer, and questions from your learners.

When the Learner Questions

Geri McArdle, in her book Delivering Effective Training Sessions, points out that learners ask questions for several reasons. As a trainer you automatically think that questions from learners are used to seek information. But learners also ask questions because they may want to find out how much you know, to demonstrate their own knowledge, to make a point, or even to get your approval. McArdle claims that the way you respond to these questions can determine the ultimate success or otherwise of your training session.

Her strategies for dealing with learner questions are straightforward. Receive the question in an open and friendly manner. You should listen carefully to the question and if necessary repeat it to make sure you understand it and that the rest of the class hears it. She emphasizes the need to think carefully before answering (Why is the question being asked? What relevance does it have to the topic? How can it be answered best, briefly and succinctly?) Your answer to the question should be succinct and simple – more than just a simple yes or no and with a short statement or example. One important strategy that McArdle recommends is that if you do not know the answer then say so, perhaps offering to find out the answer or even soliciting a response from other class members.

When the Trainer Questions

Questioning is also a basic skill that all trainers need to master. Trainers ask questions to ascertain the level of understanding of the learner. In a sense, a question during a training session is an informal test of the learner's acquisition of the skills or knowledge, and, perhaps more importantly, can be used as a gauge as to how well you are getting your message across.

Questions from trainers to their learners can take many forms – closed-ended questions, open-ended questions, recall questions, and thinking questions.

Closed-ended questions have a definite right or wrong answer and often call for a very short answer. "Which key on the keyboard gets you out of trouble?", "The Ribbon in a Microsoft Office application is usually found on which part of the screen?", "Where do you find the printing operation in Microsoft Word?"

Open-ended questions can involve many different and varied responses and can often serve to get the audience involved on many levels. Asking a class what they would like to learn or get out of the course is a classic example and serves as a great ice-breaker. "What do you think is the best way of cutting and pasting in an application?"

Questions from the trainer can also take the form of recall questions and thinking questions. A recall question requires the learner to recall what was said or done and is usually fact-based. You probably remember these from school days: "When was the French Revolution?", "What is the fourth planet from the sun?"

Thinking questions are used to make the learner have a good hard think about things. Sometimes they have to make a guess, make comparisons and judgements, put things together or to apply several skills or knowledge sets. "How would you use a mail merge in your job?", "What do you think the difference is between the Delete key and the Backspace key?"

Elliott Masie, in his book The Computer Trainer Handbook, discusses using the Socratic method of questioning in training. It is really the thinking style of questioning on steroids. Usually the information for most forms of questions raised by the trainer comes from the trainer. When Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, posed questions, he elicited information from the learners themselves.

Masie uses the example of teaching a computerised accounting system to people who already know how to use a manual system. Before launching into the new computer-based system ask the learners what types of reports they find most useful in their manual system and would include in a computer system. Once they have finished show them the reports in the computer system you are teaching and ask them to compare the difference. Here you are asking them to compare the two in order to better understand the one you are teaching.

And, like in all matters training, there are things you should never do with questions. Don't use questions as a means to control your class – don't ask questions of inattentive learners in an attempt to embarrass them and don't try and wake up sleepy learners with questions. All you'll do is turn them off your training – and that's the last thing we want.