I recently attended the Learning Technologies conference in London. One of the keynotes was from neuroscientist Beau Lotto who talked about the neuroscience of learning. Lotto said that learning is about seeing things differently and that all new perceptions start with a question. The only problem with questions, however, is that they create uncertainty and humans really do not like uncertainty. Unfortunately, the best questions create the most uncertainty.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask good questions. No, we just need to know how to cope with the uncertainty. Lotto explained that evolution’s solution to uncertainty is play. The most successful adaptive systems are rooted in play. Play is a way of being – it celebrates uncertainty and diversity, it is co-operative, it opens up possibility. Play is its only reward and we play in order to play.
All of this chimed for me and the work I do. As a journalist, I have been paid to ask questions in order to establish a story. Lots of times the answers are managed by press officers precisely because of the uncertainty Lotto describes.
It is true that when you ask a question you don’t necessarily know where the answer will take you. But by asking it you start that journey. A space is created to explore something – it might get shut down immediately with an ‘I’m not answering that question’ type of answer but if it isn’t then you start to know more than when you asked the question.
So what’s a good question? An open one. How, what why questions help create a space to talk. Closed questions don’t – those are the ones that invite a yes or no answer. Unless of course that is the type of answer you are after.
I asked my seven and five year old boys to tell me what they consider to be good questions. Their responses are below. To keep learning we need to ask questions, so keep on asking . . .
Good questions from a seven and five year old
What are we doing?
How do you do it?
Why is it doing that?
What’s the meaning of this?
Why do we have to do this?
Why are you doing that?
When is it going to happen?
What is it?
What’s the point of this?