It’s All About the Questions (Part 2)

In the August 2016 Chief Learning Officer Journal, Randy Emelo authors an article entitled “Ask Me Anything: The Power of Questions in Learning”. This is our cliff notes and our comments.

Randy Emelo writes,


“Getting information quickly is the learning method of choice these days. But favoring quick hits over asking questions and putting some effort into figuring out the answers is detrimental for the employee and company.” He observes, “We have become an impatient society that expects everything to be available with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger. We can become quite indignant when this doesn’t happen. Worse, our impatience is inhibiting our ability to learn.”


“In order for meaningful learning to take place, people have to focus on process-oriented conversations and learning activities, rather than just outcome-oriented efforts.” “One way to accomplish this is to shift attention from outcome-oriented conversations to more process-driven conversations that focus more on asking questions.”


In our previous blog post, we shared how we believe that questioning skills can and should be taught in all areas of education. We also shared how social and collaborative learning environments like Edvance360 LMS-SN help to facilitate these skills, even helping to change a culture.


This blog post will continue the thought by sharing Emelo’s four-step dialogue model to help learning designers or facilitators enable learners to reflect, envision, explore, and act. For each step, we will highlight the tools that can be used to do so online, within Edvance360.


First, Emelo shares how to create an environment in which questions can be answered honestly, usefully, and without fear. He says leaders need to model openness by getting everyone to answer the question, “Share a time when you…” and then following up with questions like:

  • How would you summarize the new things you’re hearing?
  • What new practices or insights are you gathering from the resources being shared or from the experience of others within the learning group?
  • What would result if you applied these new thoughts, practices, or concepts?
  • What conclusions could you draw from these actions that we’ve taken?
  • What is your opinion of what we’ve discovered and discussed so far?
  • How could you improve this process?
  • What new process or practice could you invent that would demonstrate a certain result?

This is the reflection step. It can be supported by the wikis (which often have discussion and debate built-in), live chat tool (which can be recorded for later use), video conferencing tool (which can be recorded for later use), discussion forums (for those who wish to take their time to answer), surveys (which can be anonymous or not), mentors (built into Edvance360 as well as outside the system), and the video tool (which allows learners to record themselves talking rather than write their answers) within discussions.


Dialogue can also be spurred in this area by asking:

  • What is your current understanding of…?
  • What bothers you most about your present situation?
  • What are your assumptions about…?

During the second step, people envision what they want the future to look like as a result of their dialogue and collaboration. Questions to ask in this phase include:

  • What is the highest result you can hope for?
  • What could you accomplish if you had no limitations or restrictions?
  • What current trends will likely influence the future of…?

The envision step can be supported by wikis (which can be edited by the entire team until a future they all love and agree on has been recorded), live chat tool, video conferencing, discussion forums, surveys, mentors, and the video tool. Outside of Edvance360, using a video editing tool to compile a live video of the “highest result” or future being shared verbally by employees can bring a culture shift and the buy-in a major change needs.


The third step of the model urges people to explore possibilities, options, and solutions. Learning leaders can dig into this area by asking:

  • What have others done in similar circumstances that has worked or not worked? Why?
  • If you did nothing, what would change regardless? What would get worse?
  • What is the most important to you or is a non-negotiable?

This exploration step can be supported by wikis and discussions, which can enable participants to share links, stories, research, and debate. The more “live” tools are often less useful in this stage due to the length of time these questions need in order to have thorough answers.


The last step of the model has people act on a chosen solution or option. To help get people to this point, learning leaders can ask:

  • What are some steps you could take? What should you do first
  • Can you commit to this course of action? Are you comfortable with it?
  • What elements are controllable versus uncontrollable?

Within Edvance360, the wikis often lend themselves to steps the participants have contributed and edited until they feel comfortable with them or with a course of action that all have collaboratively reached. Mentors can help to move employees forward in a chosen course of action.


Outside of Edvance360, there are also third-party 3D software companies that can create interactive scenarios (almost like a choose-your-own-adventure book) and games to enable learners to go through these steps and arrive at a “correct” answer, though this is obviously less collaborative.


In summary, Phil Antonelli, senior learning strategist at Xerox Learning Solutions, stated:


“Mentoring groups and collaborative learning offer a good opportunity to connect learning and thinking skills, as they encourage dialogue and information exchange while providing a way to teach and learn deeper questioning skills.”


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