In business training, the focus is often on how to most effectively convey a lesson to trainees, as if the instructional process was a one-way street.
However, making sure your employees learn has far more to do with encouraging them to think than with just presenting them with information and hoping it’s absorbed. By leading trainees in the process of examination of their answers, you’ll not only help them better understand material, but also retain it and be able to put it to use.
For thousands of years, one of the most effective ways to do this is through Socratic questioning. As the name suggests, the technique was first proposed by the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, and posits that a problem is best solved by examining it through a series of questions that not only result in individual answers, but encourage a deeper understanding of the topic being explored.
Instructors can use Socratic questioning to gain better insight into a student’s thinking, determine the depth of their knowledge, and to help provide a framework for analyzing concepts outside of the classroom. Learners, meanwhile, gain a tool that they can share with colleagues to better examine workplace problems.
Socratic questioning typically follows the following pattern:
- Offering trainees the opportunity to clarify their ideas and verbalize from where their ideas originate. These are primarily for clarification: “Could you explain that further?” or “Why do you say that?”
- Probing and challenging the assumptions of a learner: “What could we assume, instead?” or “Is this always the case?”
- Emphasizing evidence and reason as a basis for an argument: “What’s an example of this?” or “Is there a reason to doubt this evidence?”
- The opportunity to present counter-arguments or alternative viewpoints: “What’s another way to look at this?” or “Who benefits from this?”
- Exploring the implications and/or consequences of a particular answer: “But if … happened, what would be the result?” or “How does … tie in with what we’ve already learned?”
- Questioning the question itself, by querying participants on why it was important or why the question was asked in the first place: “Why do you think I asked this question?” or “Why was that question important?”