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Questioning is one of the most important of the techniques that trainers and facilitators need to master. It can be used to:
- get and maintain interest,
- maintain interest in a discussion,
- stimulate and guide participant thinking,
- evaluate and summarise,
- encourage participation,
- determine trainee attitudes,
- develop the subject.
Good questions are:
- clear and concise,
- related to the objective,
- limited to one idea,
- directed to entire group,
- distributed at random to different participants.
How to ask questions
Try the following six steps to increase participation through questions:
- Prepare the questions in advance.
- Ask the question.
- Pause to give all participants time to mentally answer the question.
- Call on a particular participant by name.
- Listen to all the answers to catch any misconceptions and to pick up on any additional learning.
- Reinforce by praising appropriately, paraphrasing, adding overlooked points and restating the answer.
Types of question
There are five different types of question that you can use:
- Factual recall
- Case study
These five types can be further categorised into:
- Closed and
- Open questions
Factual recall questions
Factual recall questions test the ability to remember facts or procedures. They:
- are easy to formulate,
- are easy to evaluate participant is either right or wrong,
- do not test the participant's ability to analyse a situation.
"How many different types of question are there?"
"What are the characteristics of a good question?"
Comparison questions compare known information with new information. They help you to:
- proceed from the known to the unknown,
- to impart new information if there is already some knowledge to build on.
"In what ways does streaming differ from downloading?"
"When a customer is indifferent to you product, you would probe to uncover areas of dissatisfaction. How would your approach differ if the customer objected to the product?"
Opinion questions ask for opinions or ideas about a subject. They are useful in:
- uncovering misconceptions,
- uncovering attitudes about the subject matter,
- evaluating how the learning will be transferred back to the work place.
"How would you define productivity?"
"How will you use this information when you are back in your office?"
Case study questions
Case study questions - very often presented as a written exercise - are designed to give an opportunity for practising new learning by solving a problem. They must:
- be relevant to problems found on the job,
- include all necessary information so that an answer can be reached,
- be planned in advance.
Verbal case study questions should be thought out thoroughly before beginning a session to ensure relevance to participants' jobs and to the session objectives.
"Using the given productivity standards, how long would it take to complete editing an article of 100 pages?"
"How would you deal with the way Martin spoke to Andrew?"
Rhetorical questions are questions that:
- do not necessarily require an answer,
- are principally used to emphasise a point,
- can be used when responses are not forthcoming.
Beware of falling into the habit of asking questions and always answering them yourself.
"Would you take a sledgehammer to crack a nut? - of course not."
"You wouldn't turn down the offer of more money, would you?"
Closed questions can be adequately answered in a few words. Many closed questions begin with: Are... Can... Was... Who... Did... Do... Which... When... etc.
"What kind of machine is this?"
"Who is responsible for distributing this form?
"Which do you think are better at sustaining discussion open or closed questions"
"Who is right the supervisor or the trainee?"
"Does preparing the lesson plan come before setting the objectives?"
"Is 'Defining the Problem' the first step in the problem solving process?"
Open questions cannot be answered adequately in a few words. Open questions often begin with: What... Why... How... etc.
"What do you think about... ?"
"Why should Martin lead the group?"
"Why do you think the associate found the error?"
"What evidence did the police have?"
"How have you been handling the process until now?"
"What contributes to a good training session?"
Case study questions
"What should the supervisor do now?"
"How would you implement the solution?"
Techniques for asking questions
There are four techniques for asking questions:
Direct questions are directed to a particular person.
Overhead questions are thrown out with no indication of who is to reply.
Can be used to begin or stimulate discussion.
They give you a quick idea of the kind of participants that are in the group.
They engage the attention of the whole group.
Participants can lean on each others' ideas.
May discourage participation (especially new group members).
Talkative participants may dominate.
Can weaken control of the group.
More than one person may talk at once.
It becomes easier to get off the subject.
Reversed questions are returned back to the participant. They are useful when you:
- want a participant-centred discussion,
- feel that the participant knows the answer and hasn't thought the question through.
If reversed questions are used too often, the participant will think you are hiding behind this technique and that you don't know the answer. Participants may resent you handing the questions back and become embarrassed or hostile.
Student: "When would you use a reverse question?"
Trainer: "When do you think you should use a reverse question?"
Redirected questions are questions that you are asked but are rephrased and passed on to the group or another person. The technique is useful when the you want to keep the discussion participant-centered.
Participants may want you to answer or become embarrassed when another group member can answer. Do not use this technique as a cover-up for not knowing the answer. The redirection technique is used to best effect with opinion questions.
Peter: "How would you define efficiency?"
Trainer: "Peter has asked for a definition of efficiency how would you define it, John?"
Types of question to avoid
This section discusses the types of question that will give you nothing but trouble the type of question that should be avoided at all costs. The five types to avoid are:
- Catch questions
- Irrelevant questions
- Leading questions
- Pumping questions
- Ambiguous questions
Catch questions are questions which trick a participant into making a mistake. This type of question is used because of a mistaken feeling it will emphasise the importance of the material.
Catch questions make trainees suspicious of questions and suspicious of you. If catch questions are used repeatedly, participants may refuse to give answers. How would you react to being asked a question you couldn't answer or having to solve a problem you couldn't solve?
An instructor leaves an essential piece of information out of a case study and then asks a questions relating to that information.
These are questions that are not relevant to the objective or are 'nice to know' rather than 'need to know'. This type of question might be used because of comfort with the subject and a desire to experimenting with it.
Irrelevant questions can confuse participants about the objective of the session. Important information may be missed because too much time is spent on irrelevant detail.
Questions are asked which suggest the required answer. Typically they begin with: "wouldn't you say that..." or "don't you think...". No learning takes place with this type of question. It's very easy to fall into asking this type of question when you feel you are not getting the right responses.
This is the reverse question gone wild. An attempt is made to extract a response from a participant who doesn't know or is unwilling to answer the question. Participants can become embarrassed, resentful or openly hostile. The group will tend to sympathise with the person concerned.
These questions are vague, indefinite or have a double-meaning. This can happen when you try to ad lib case study problem questions. Ambiguous questions can waste time, limit discussion, cause participants to become suspicious and be the source of arguments between you and the group as to the meaning of the question.
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