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Be a Better Learner by Asking Questions

9 October 2018

Janie read Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself, and Thrive by Bradley Staats and thought about how asking questions can help her to be a better learner.

Tags: janie read, learning, the next big idea club

Two weeks ago, I spent part of the week in the classroom of the leadership training program that I manage. I have supported this program for many years, but I haven’t been in the classroom for this portion of the training in quite some time. I enjoyed watching the process as my participants learned and practiced new concepts. At the end of the week, I found myself thinking about my latest selection from The Next Big Idea Club, Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself, and Thrive by Bradley Staats.

One of the concepts that really resonated with me in Never Stop Learning is the importance of asking good questions. Staats said, “When we ask questions, we fill in the blanks in our own knowledge.” He shared several examples where a question was the catalyst for a major innovation. (Did you know Pandora was inspired by the question, “Can music I like be used to find new music for me?”) Staats also noted that asking questions to learn is common among young children; kids often spend 70-80% of their time asking questions. As we get older, we tend to stop asking so many questions, and that gets in the way of our learning.

I have seen how powerful asking questions can be and I got a good reminder of this when I was in the classroom. In addition to observing this group of leaders approach learning with curiosity and a lot of questions, our facilitators helped them practice stating their challenges in the form of a big “what if” question. I noticed that these challenges-as-questions sparked the imagination and invited others to share ideas as possibilities. It was powerful to see the immediate impact of a good question.

Even with this experience and knowing that asking questions can lead to better understanding, it is still sometimes hard for me to do it. I hate to bother people and sometimes I talk myself out of asking a question because I convince myself that it will be annoying to the other person. Staats said we should remember that people like to be asked questions. “We may fear that asking a question will make us look foolish or ignorant, but in fact, research shows that people see questioners as responsive and socially perceptive.” I am going to work on remembering this advice and reminding myself that asking questions is one of the best ways to learn.


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