Learning can sometimes be tricky business. It’s not always as simple as learning something and being on our way. There are a lot of questions you have to ask yourself and depending on where the information comes from, it could even be wrong or completely fake.
A good example is AI, it has a bad habit of sounding so confident even the most critical of people might believe it. The unfortunate part is that AI also has a bad habit of lying a lot. In AI terms that’s called hallucinating. In other words, completely making things up.
That’s why it’s always important to ask more questions. You should ask as many questions as possible while taking things with a grain of salt when you can’t ask questions.
Ask yourself, could this be harmful to my mental health or intelligence if it’s wrong? If the answer is yes, you should probably doubt it unless true with sources that can be validated as 100% true.
Of course, you want to balance believing people and things with being a cynic that unnecessarily doubts of everything. Either end of the spectrum isn’t a great place to be. But, a healthy dose of critical thinking and question-asking can lead you in the direction of believing things that should be believed while questioning or doubting those that shouldn’t be.
Just like social media can’t be trusted inherently, AI also can’t be trusted. Most things can’t be trusted without question because anything created by humans or computers is prone to error.
Asking a few questions or pausing a second can save so many misunderstandings and save people from getting worked up over nothing.
Unfortunately simply adding things like “based on, we know…” or “the following research on xyz tells us…” or even “according to xyz, we know…” seem like they could be evidence-based but they’re not.
Mathew Richer’s LinkedIn post illustrates this perfectly (and where I stole the examples from in the last sentence).
And that LinkedIn post is what this blog post is all about. It’s all about asking those important questions and taking Matthew’s suggestions on some questions you can ask.
While I’m not going to go all the way in saying you have to ask all these questions, some of them are useful. It’s also useful to look at things with a bit of a critical eye.
When you have the urge to use statements like “goldfish have longer attention spans than people” as fact, or that generation XYZ prefers things a certain way, ask more questions. There is basic research on attention but it says nothing about comparing our attention to anything else. A goldfish can’t watch a three-hour movie and stay engaged. A goldfish is so simple-minded, though, that they may watch a toy for 10 minutes. I don’t know about you, but just because I don’t want to watch a toy for 10 minutes doesn’t mean I have a short attention span, it just means I have a low tolerance for useless or boring things.
But I digress.
We do need to ask more questions and not take broad statements as facts. That includes percentages that are made up or images that appear to be real. This isn’t specific to the learning and development world, but if you’re in training in any capacity, ask more questions.
But why you ask?
I’m glad you asked! Let’s take a look at why you should ask more questions.
Why Ask More Questions?
Going through the world without asking questions could be your thing. But, if you’re going to meaningfully contribute to the world, questions are an inevitable part of it. That’s how we learn things, find out what other people want and need, or just be a better person.
While there are lots of different aspects to successful and happy people in life, I’m willing to bet asking questions is a pretty important part of that. There are lots of benefits to asking more questions.
Gain A Deeper Understanding Of The Topic
Without questions, you can’t gain a deeper understanding of any topic. In addition to understanding the topic deeper, you might uncover inconsistencies, lack of truth, no facts to back information up, or whatever.
There’s so much you can learn about a topic by asking more questions. A good stance for critical thinking is to ask the five W’s and H questions; Who, What Where, When Why, and How.
Those are the root of the question but not the questions themselves. In the LinkedIn post above, some of the questions Matthew presents that I’ve expanded upon are as follows.
- What research supports this study?
- Was that study able to be replicated?
- Was the research independent?
- What questions are answered by the study? <- this is an extremely important one because you’d be surprised how many people don’t look at studies but extrapolate information they want to push on others from studies that aren’t related in any way or are vaguely related.
- Are the conclusions from the research consistent with the speaker’s (or authors’) interpretation? (not a W or H but still relevant)
- What biases might the speaker have?
- Is the study peer supported meaning it has been through rigorous questioning by other experts?
These are just a few examples but they go beyond the LinkedIn post.
Sometimes questions can lead you down a bad path, but if you ask genuine questions then they usually help. They can help improve your communication by allowing you to communicate better with others as well as understand others better.
It’s a win-win most of the time. If you know someone else’s idea and what they’re thinking then you can better understand their approach to what you’re talking about. Even in regular conversations, it’s nearly impossible to have a one-sided conversation. Typically that leads nowhere.
Real communication happens when questions are being asked and information is constantly being refined and clarified.
When you see something perhaps with a percentage then there’s a good chance it’s not backed by a real study. There are so many infographics out there that use hard data that isn’t backed by anything.
They could be based on common assumptions that aren’t based on any truth at all. You might have seen some of these:
- 90% of what you learn is forgotten within 24 hours.
- A human’s attention span is shorter than a goldfish’s.
- Learning based on your learning style will increase your success in learning.
The list goes on with bogus claims, false percentages that sound good, and more. But by asking some questions you can avoid this misinformation, help others see the misinformation, and perhaps learn something new in the process.
Improve Ideas, Thoughts, And Creativity
Asking questions leads to more information for you which leads to more questions. It’s an endless cycle of curiosity, learning, and expanding your mind. That nearly always leads to more creative solutions to your problems and thinking about the world in different ways.
Some of the most important inventions in the world have been discovered based on asking questions. Those who invent, create, and improve the world always start with questions. The whole process starts with questioning the way things are and how they could be better.
Those who are in the world of learning know the importance of questioning, not accepting information as fact until proven as fact, and never-ending that cycle of critical thinking.
But what questions should you be asking to get the best ideas, learn more, and expand your creativity?
What Questions Should You Be Asking?
I already mentioned the 5 W’s and H. Those are the basis for nearly (but not all) questions you should be asking. When you encounter any new information or something you don’t know as absolute fact, it’s time to pull out your questions.
As a reminder, the 5 W’s are Who, What, Where, When, and Why. And then there’s the single lonely H, How?
In the examples I pulled from Matthew’s post above, not even all of the most important questions do follow those core questions. There are plenty of questions that can be asked and they don’t all start with W or even H.
Even within the 5 W’s and H questions, there are infinite questions that can be asked within that framework. I recently read a critical thinking book and it had several examples of questions you could ask for each one.
And that list of questions you should ask will be different for every problem. When we start a new project, it seems like the needs analysis process is a neverending process of questions. We always want to go deeper and wider in every problem we set out to solve.
You don’t need to always go into the same depth as the LinkedIn post above mentioned, but research shouldn’t be accepted at face value. Ask questions about who did the research, if any was done, and what the interest in the research was.
Here are a few examples of questions based on each W and H:
- Who is impacted by this problem?
- Who has information or expertise that could help solve this problem?
- Who are the stakeholders in this situation, and what are their perspectives?
- Who is affected by potential solutions to this problem, and how?
- Who else has experienced similar problems, and how did they address them?
- What is the main point or message?
- What are the key ideas or concepts?
- What evidence supports this information?
- What are the sources of this information, and how reliable are they?
- What are the implications of this information, and what are the potential consequences?
- What are the assumptions underlying this information, and are they valid?
- What further questions or research does this information raise?
- Where did this information come from?
- Where was this information originally published or distributed? (don’t cite a source that cites a source that cited a source)
- Where is this information most relevant or applicable?
- Where can I find additional information or resources related to this topic?
- Where was this research conducted or data collected?
- Where might this information be most useful or impactful?
- Where are the potential gaps or limitations in this information?
- Where might this information be relevant in the future?
- When was this information published or created?
- When was this information last updated?
- When does this information fit into the larger timeline or history of this topic?
- Why is this information important or relevant?
- Why was this information created or published?
- Why is this information being shared or distributed?
- Why is this information credible or reliable?
- Why might someone disagree with this information?
- Why is this information valuable or useful?
- Why is it important to consider this information when making decisions?
- How was this information gathered or obtained?
- How was this information analyzed or processed?
- How does this information fit into the larger context or framework?
- How does this information address potential biases or limitations?
- How does this information contribute to existing knowledge or understanding?
- How can this information be applied in practice or in decision-making?
- How could this information be interpreted or used differently by others?
- How can you verify the accuracy or reliability of this information?
Those are some examples but don’t ever feel like you should be stuck only asking these questions or even within the W’s and H framework. All questions are good questions and they’ll all help in the long run.
The more questions you ask, the better off you’ll be in both understanding and creativity. They will always contribute to making better decisions about what you share, what you believe, and how to resolve issues.
So, no matter what types of questions you ask, always ask more questions.
If you weren’t asking many questions before and simply accepting information, hopefully, this will spur you to ask more questions. Your success and happiness in every part of life relies on asking questions and digging deeper into information.
You should always ask more questions so you can gain a deeper understanding of the topic, improve communication, avoid misinformation, and improve ideas. It’s a great practice in both your personal life as well as in your professional life.
While I don’t expect you to go around with a printed page of questions to ask, it’s nice to have examples of some of what you can ask. Every bit of information you read or hear will have unique questions you can ask. It’s best to play it by ear and use your best judgment of what questions to ask both in your head and if you have the chance, someone else.
If you’re reading a news article, you can’t exactly ask the questions to someone else. But, you can ask them to yourself to decide if the information is trustworthy. That doubly goes for social media where the most misinformation is rampant.
And of course, it also applies to your professional life where no project can be finished successfully without asking questions. If you’re an instructional designer, one of your most important tasks is to ask questions.
Lots of questions.
Don’t just go with the flow and as Matthew Richter says nod your head up and down. Maybe you don’t always have to go as deep as he suggests, but read over his post again and make sure you ask your own questions. Don’t just accept information at face value and never accept it just because it seems true or is accepted by others.
As always, if you have any questions for us, we’re always here to answer them, just give us a holler. And, if you have any new corporate IT projects coming up that employees need to be trained on (new tech ain’t easy) then schedule a free consultation to discuss your project.