I’m obsessed with questions.
The questions we ask define our lives. They frame information, opening new ways of thinking, expose gaps in our current thinking.
As we’ll see, when it comes to training employees, asking good questions will define the success or failure of our program.
Using ‘What’ Questions in Training
The first type of question is the “what” question—a basic check of understanding and retention.
I tell you facts and opinions; then I have you recite them back to me. These are typically simple questions. For example:
Who’s the current president of the United States?
You and I know the answer: Donald J. Trump.
Our minds from school are filled with the answers to these kinds of questions. Likewise, most employee training programs are full of “what” questions and the rote replies they inspire.
Most training programs (and classrooms) don’t progress much further than this, unfortunately.
Using ‘Why’ Questions in Training
The next phase of development comes when we start focusing on “why” questions.
Why questions are important because they force the learner to consider context and principles. For instance, if we slightly change the questions above from who to why, it becomes:
“Why is Donald J. Trump the president of the USA?”
The answer to this question is much richer—because we can’t answer a “why” question with a rote response.
Answering the “why” means our understanding needs to be deeper. We must tie together multiple types of information with the context of modern America, etc., to develop a point of view. And a point of view is so much more than an answer.
Developing a learner’s point of view is important because instead of a rote response, it gives them a framework from which to make decisions.
For example, a company may instruct customer service reps to take X action in Y situation.
But what if reps faces a situation that doesn’t match any situation they’ve been trained to handle?
If their training included “why” questions, they’ll understand the reason behind their instructions. They have a decision-making framework (aka a point of view) they can use in inevitable situations that are different than anything they saw in training.
Using ‘What’ and ‘Why’ Questions Together
As you design your training curriculum, I recommend using questions that follow a format that looks like this:
- Present information
- Ask the “what” question
- Present the point of view
- Ask the “why” question
- Information: When a customer asks for a refund, issue one immediately.
- “What question”: What should you do if a customer asks for a refund?
- Point of View: We are willing to take a short-term loss in order to retain the customer’s business over time.
- “Why” question: Why do we immediately grant refund requests?
In their day-to-day jobs, employees are not machines—spitting back rote information. They need to make decisions. “Why” questions point out principles, and from principles you can make decisions.
Think of the questions in your training as a series of checks.
At first, you want to check for a basic understanding of the “what” you’ve presented. Once your students understand the “what,” they you need to check for the “why.”
Once we get those down, then juice it up with a scenario based question. That way you can start testing the learner for situations they’re likely to face in the real world.
A great method for reinforcing the “why” is to show what good and bad responses look like in different scenarios.
If these are novice learners, show them an example of a bad response, ask them why it’s bad, then have them explain what a good response could have been.
Then show them good responses and ask, “Why is this good?”
Breaking Free from the Trap of Rote Learning
By using questions, we can paint with knowledge. We can create worldviews out of the information we teach in our training, worlds that our learners can step into, explore, and use later when they get back to their jobs.
They’re so much more than simple rote checks that we too often fall into.