Super Questioning Techniques

Thinking about questions

In a previous blog we looked at the importance of questioning in getting interaction happening in training. In this blog we are going to look at techniques for making your questioning more relevant and effective.

Doug Malouf in his book How To Teach Adults In a Fun And Exciting Way suggests a number of ways you can question effectively in your training sessions:

Ask only one question at a time and don't spray several questions at once. Doing so only confuses your learners.

After you have asked the question pause for a few moments. Either wait for answers or if appropriate name the person that you'd like to have answer the question.

After you have asked the question give the learner an opportunity to answer the question. You may get a little anxious if the learner doesn't immediately answer. However, patience is the key here. Learners often take time to think of the answer so be kind and give them that time. Malouf suggests that you practise waiting after you have asked a question – count silently to 10 or 20 before speaking.

During your session distribute questions around the group and at all costs avoid picking on favourites who crave any attention you give them or need to big note themselves. Your task as a trainer is to ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute and you need to spread these opportunities around. Sometimes the quiet people will surprise you with a gem of an answer. However, don't fall into the trap of picking on a learner because they have been inattentive or drowsy – picking on learners with questions as a form of punishment will only alienate them from your training.

Don't be afraid to build on an answer. You can turn an answer back on the group: "Mary's answer was interesting. What would your answer be, Bill?" Another alternative is to begin with simple questions that build to a broader answer or solution. For example, if you want the group to tell you how they would create a mail merge in Microsoft Word you could begin with "okay, where do we begin?" The first person may suggest creating a data file with relevant names and addresses. You can then prompt for a second answer with "excellent, James, what next?"

Listen carefully and thoughtfully to all answers. As Malouf says if you can't be bothered paying attention to the responses then you can't really expect learners to bother answering your questions.

Finally make sure you give positive feedback at all times. If the answer is incorrect you need to be tactful in terms of how you inform the learner that they goofed. You can add an element of positivity to a wrong answer by beginning with "Good try Bill, but not quite what I had in mind". You can provide hints for the same learner or open the question to the rest of the group.

So, are there any guidelines for preparing questions? According to Malouf you should:

Make your questions brief and clear because people can't provide an answer if they don't understand or comprehend what you mean.

Make sure your questions invite learners to think aloud about the topic. You should be challenging their thinking abilities and rewarding them for working through a process.

Ask open questions as much as you can.

Introduce variation by making the odd comment. It can be provocative such as "Adobe make better products than Microsoft" or speculative such as "I wonder what version of Windows we'll have in 2020". These are designed to stimulate discussion. You don't need to believe what you say but you have to judge the moment well and ensure that the group is responding in the manner in which the comment is made.

So hopefully Doug Malouf has provided you with interesting techniques to use in your questioning. Remember learning is stimulated through interaction and the best way of securing interaction is through good questioning.