“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.” – Lloyd Alexander. (Saiisha, n.d.)
Questions are the necessary precedent to discovery or exploration. Science begins by asking questions as a form of intellectual exploration that seeks answers. Young children intuitively understand this basic principle (Vale, and Kozminski, 2013). Learning starts with questions; when we are genuinely curious and sincerely search for answers, we are not only intrinsically motivated, but we are more able to remember what we have discovered. These questions become a personal quest that can lead to answers that may change our very understanding of the world around us. Questions are a gateway to learning and honing advanced cognitive enablers, and by extension the key to our own personal improvement. When questions are at the forefront of our learning we will not find just simple answers or come across one way of looking at a problem, rather questions lead to more questions, which leads to more discovery, and thus creates a learning cycle (Vale, and Kozminski, 2013).
Young children are full of questions bound by curiosity rather than a desire to impress (Vale, and Kozminski, 2013). Children go to school excited to discover answers to questions, but in a short time they no longer show that same excitement. Discovery is exciting and children soon become disappointed when school takes discovery and turns it into a feeding trough where they just shut up and listen for the answers that you need to memorize. The development of questions and searching for answers is an exciting and intriguing process with many learning opportunities.
Despite questions being a crucial learning tool, schools from elementary to university seem to ignore questions that students have in order to focus on questions the system wants them to have the answers for, content and memorizing facts (Vale, and Kozminski, 2013). Even in university, the pinnacle of higher learning, precise answers are appraised and sought for, whereas questions are just a side thought. This may be due to questions being more time-consuming in a typical classroom setting, and teachers having to follow a strict curriculum with content that must be covered for the final exams. However, by demanding precise answers in schools, we turn a rather complex reality into a simple version of what reality actually is (Vale, and Kozminski, 2013). It is also more difficult to grade questions than answers, and students depend on teachers for answers, but they refuse to allow students to use easily accessible technology to access the internet, our virtual library with the entire scope of human knowledge (Vale, and Kozminski, 2013). If these statements seem unbelievable, just ask students if there are comfortable asking questions or having their ideas questioned. Many students are not comfortable with questions, and yet as young children they were second nature. We do not outgrow questions either because it is a learned behaviour to be uncomfortable with being questioned or asking questions.
Learning to ask questions is not a trivial task, it takes practice, training and mentoring (Vale, and Kozminski, 2013). How can someone develop questioning skills in an environment that does not encourage active questioning? Socrates is known as one of the greatest teachers, and the Socratic method is centered around the use of questions. The Socratic method uses critical thinking, reasoning and logic in a discussion based scenario that can lead to good debate (Fabio, 2018). Socrates taught his students by using questions to probe the validity of an assumption, analyze the logic of an argument, and explore the unknown (Vale, and Kozminski, 2013). Not only did the students learn a wealth of information, but they developed important cognitive thinking skills, including asking questions as a learning and discovery tool. Using the Socratic method or a version similar to it, we should be able to have all disciplines learn from one another and explore and exploit each other’s practices and ideas (Vale, and Kozminski, 2013).
Using questions at the forefront of learning can be called inquiry-based learning, which involves less factual memorization. Students need freedom to choose a question of some interest, time to research the answer, and share what they learned with fellow peers and teachers (Vale, and Kozminski, 2013). With the evidence presented we can formulate what a general class should look like in an ideal university when using an inquiry-based methodology. The number of students in a class would have to be smaller in comparison to the typical lecture studio numbers. The teacher would be a facilitator who helps when needed, but also asks probing questions to students to help further the discussion. In the class students would develop their own questions concerning the subject, have time to do research, and share their information in writing and in discussions with other peers. Classrooms should be open to allow exploration, testing methods or theories, and using technology for additional research. Grades and content based curriculums need to be pushed aside and completely out of the focus of education to make this model fully effective. This kind of classroom model in a university would allow students to learn in a way similar to the pupils of Socrates, but with the advantage of a modern virtual library. This model is possibly applicable for younger students as well, even though they are developing basic cognitive enablers that require more assistance, but even children can begin to learn to ask questions, look for answers and discuss their findings.
How often do we focus on asking questions rather than getting that right answer (the expected answer)? Why are we afraid to question what we know or what we do not know? As a society do we value people who question the status quo or those who honestly question the way we have always done something? If there is something to learn still, then there are room for questions. How many questions have you asked or thought about today?
“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” – Eugene Ionesco. (Saiisha, n.d.)
Vale, R., and Kozminski, K., (March 15 2013). The value of asking questions. The American Society for Cell Biology, 24, 6, pp. 680-682. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E12-09-0660
Fabio, M., (June 25 2018). What is the Socratic method? ThoughtCo. Retrieved from: http://www.thoughtco.com
Saiisha, (n.d.). 36 quotes from successful people about the wisdom in asking questions. Life Hack.