When Learning Anything: A Framework for Asking Questions
You can guide your focus with this framework when you encounter new learning material that you want to understand better.
We tend to rely on habitual patterns when asking questions about new stuff. In this context, it is important to de-bias yourself so you don’t get one-sided views. Broaden your horizon for understanding new learning material with these four types of questions — adapted from HBR’s “Relearning the Art of Asking Questions.”
Let’s dive in.
Ask Clarifying Questions
The intent of the question is to affirm what you already assume to know. You narrow down. Questions like “Can you explain in more detail?” or “Why to do you come to this conclusion” are clarifying questions. Ask this to avoid missing crucial details.
Ask Adjoining Questions
Here the intent is to explore a learning transfer: “Would this work in a different context — and if so, how?” You widen your view on the subject you are learning and test its validity against other things you already know.
Ask Funneling Questions
With these kinds of questions, you dive down to root causes and analyze individual components. You can begin with questions that start with “How may this have come about… “ to discover something new, but with laser-sharp focus on the matter that is in the center of your attention.
Ask Elevating Questions
With this strategy, you take a step back and train a soft gaze that is widely attentive to context. You reach a meta-level of asking questions, such as “Is this the right question at all?” Ascending to a birds-eye view perspective helps to map connections and scan for emerging patterns.
Use Questions to Improve your Systems Thinking
Refining your portfolio of go-to questions will help you ask smarter questions when interrogating new learning material — textbooks, articles, books etc. Such a stance as a critical learner will help you improve your systems thinking. It’ll unlock unique perspectives, which is rewarding because you get to experience a special reward: the delight of your own curiosity.
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