How to ask the right questions to maximise learning

The ability to ask questions when learning something new is a very useful skill to have as an adult learner. It can assist you to clarify new concepts and accelerate your learning.

When you ask questions in a group learning environment, not only do you show that you are engaging with the topic that is being discussed, you encourage better and clearer communication between the teacher/facilitator and the rest of the group. This can help to create a better learning environment and experience for everyone.

An unfortunate ‘side effect’ of growing up can be our reluctance to ask questions. Whether due to pride or fear of looking stupid, adults are far less likely to ask a question when they don’t understand something. Compare that to a child, for whom everything is a learning experience, and questions are simply a part of their everyday routine.

There are different types of questions you can ask of a teacher, mentor or other student when learning something new. Knowing why you are asking a question, or what you are hoping to achieve by asking it, is important. Once you’ve established that, the following example questions will help you to frame your questions clearly.

  1. Questions that help you to clarify a point / understand something better:
  • What does he/she mean by _____?
  • What is the main point of _____?
  • Could you give me an example of _____?
  • Would _____ be an example of _____?
  • Why does he/she say that?
  1. Questions that explore the reason behind something:
  • How do you know _____?
  • Is there any evidence for _____?
  • What difference does _____ make?
  • What are his/her reasons for saying _____?
  • What led him/her to believe _____?
  1. Questions that examine others’ viewpoints and perspectives:
  • What does _____ imply?
  • If _____ happened, what else would happen as a result? Why?
  • What effect would _____ have on _____?
  • If we say that _____ is right, then would _____ be right too?
  • How might _____ respond to this issue?

As you might have noticed, many of these are open-ended questions. This means that they cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” Asking open-ended questions lets the person responding give you a more detailed explanation, and it also allows you to ask follow-up questions if there’s something that you would like to learn about in greater detail.

Remember, while asking questions is a great way to learn and a useful social tool that helps you to show interest in other people, it is important to ask questions for the right reasons too.

Practise discretion – know when and where to ask which questions, and ask only genuine questions that are relevant and that will contribute to the topic that is being discussed.

Learn Local organisations offer a number of courses and programs for adults that can assist you to continue your learning journey, or get back into learning.