Learning – Litemind https://litemind.com Exploring ways to use our minds efficiently. Mon, 01 Jan 2018 20:43:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 10 Best Ways to Harness the Power of Questions https://litemind.com/questions/ https://litemind.com/questions/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2009 18:35:10 +0000 http://litemind.com/?p=100 Our brains love questions. They have the power to engage us and to shift our mindsets. They drive knowledge and growth, and fuel both creativity and critical thinking. Here are 10 ways to ask questions more intelligently you can start using today.

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“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” –Naguib Mahfouz (Nobel Prize Winner)

Our brains love questions. They have the power to engage us and to shift our mindsets. They drive knowledge and growth, and fuel both creativity and critical thinking. Here are 10 ways to ask questions more intelligently you can start using today.

1. Questions for Creative Problem Solving

One of the most effective ways to approach any problem is to ask questions about it. The greatest thing about questions is that your brain automatically starts working on them as soon as you ask them. Not only that, but it’ll keep working on them in the background, when you’re not even aware of it.

For an initial set of more than 50 sample questions you can use in just about any problem, try the SCAMPER technique. Another effective technique you can use is asking why until you get to the core of your problem.

2. Questions for Shifting Your Perspective to a Problem

Just like it’s useful asking questions about a problem, so it is turning the problem itself into a question. We know that properly defining and stating problems is essential for great problem solving, and framing problems as questions is one of the techniques that can definitely boost your effectiveness as problem-solver.

In general, statements trigger our brains’ logical and analytical skills. Many times, they encourage you to try and reach conclusions as soon as possible. Questions, on the other hand, trigger our brains’ imagination and creative thinking skills. They encourage you to take a more exploratory approach, which tends to foster a whole new set of insights.

For example, try changing a problem statement such as “Ways to Improve My Life” into questions such as “In what ways can I improve my life?”, or “Is there an opportunity for improving my life here?”, and check how it feels.

3. Questions for Directing Thinking and Debate

Questions guide and direct our thinking process. Depending on the situation, it might be more useful to ask “open”, or “expanding” questions: they elicit new ideas, opinions and grow possibilities. Examples include “What are your thoughts on this idea?”, and “Can you think of other usage scenarios?”.

On the other hand, sometimes it might be more productive to ask “closed” or “narrowing down” questions: they converge focus, direct thinking, and bring discussions to a more objective, “down-to-earth” level. Examples include: “What are the tasks that need to get done?”, “How much will this cost?”.

The idea is to purposefully use different kinds of questions at different times to consciously drive your thinking process towards the most productive direction.

4. Questions for Education and Leadership

Great teachers and coaches know that true learning can only happen when students think by themselves. Questions are a great way to stimulate thinking — and, if used skillfully, work vastly better than just dumping knowledge into someone’s head.

Instead of simply showing concepts and solutions to students, teachers can use questions to instigate collaborative exploration: ” What would happen if we increased the angle here?”, “How would it behave without air resistance?” and so on.

Also, questions work not only for teachers, but can be extremely useful in business environments. In corporations, for example, leaders (formal or not) can, by asking questions and guiding people to think for themselves, encourage shared pride and ownership of the solutions generated. Typical questions include “What solutions can we see here?” and “What do you think we should do?”.

5. Questions for Creating Conversation and Empathy

Questions are the glue of empathetic communication: they energize and enliven conversations, inviting people to participate and to share insights and opinions. When you use them properly, people feel included and listened to and, therefore, will be much more likely to engage in meaningful and productive conversation.

Lately, I started noticing that many discussions are, in fact, more like simultaneous monologues: instead of listening, each person is just waiting his turn to talk. Simple queries such as “How can I help?”, or “Did your son get better since last time we talked?” are the easiest way to show that you’re listening, and that you honestly care about what’s being shared with you.

6. Questions for Critical Thinking

Skillful use of inquiry is the cornerstone of critical thinking. Again, it’s only through questioning that we can truly think by ourselves — instead of blindly accepting whatever we’re told as the right thing to do or the only acceptable answer.

When I say ‘skillful use of inquiry’, this does not mean necessarily getting fancy: oftentimes, it means being playful and “thinking like a child”. Great critical thinkers don’t get embarrassed to ask seemingly naïve questions: these are usually the most effective — as well as the ones snob intellectuals are more prone to overlook.

As an effective initial set of questions to use, it’s hard to beat the famous 5Ws (what, where, who, when and why). “Where did you see it?”, “What are the causes of it?”, “Why is the emperor naked?”.

7. Questions for Shifting Your Focus

Reframing self-limiting situations as questions has long been celebrated as an excellent way to instantly changing the way we feel.

Suppose you’re feeling down but, even so, you dare to ask yourself “What am I excited about?”. At first, you’ll get irritated by the question. However, if you put honest effort in answering it, you will indeed find something worth feeling better about. And that’s not denial: it’s just shifting your focus.

Also, disempowering statements such as “This is impossible!” increase your stress and prevent you from searching for solutions. Turn it into “How can I make this possible?” or ” What’s good about this?” puts you back in the driver’s seat and direct your focus on solutions.

8. Questions for Inspiration, Goal Setting and Action

A great way to set goals is by asking yourself “What if…?”. This question alone has the power to direct our imagination to create a vision for ourselves — and then spawn the thought processes that help it become reality.

A technique I use to think about “higher-levels” goals — as well as roles and areas of responsibility — is to turn them into questions. Statements may work fine for to-do lists, but I find that for thinking about the big picture they’re overly dull and uninspiring.

For example, suppose that you identified ‘Health’ as a general area that is important to you. Now, one way to track and assess progress under that area is to think generically about this label “Health” and what actions you can take. Contrast it with the much stronger alternative of turning it into a question: “How can I improve my health today?”.

Thinking that way motivates and primes you for action. In fact, it’s so strong that it’s hard not to take action, don’t you agree? The same holds true for goals and even lower-level projects: the goal “Get 10 new customers by the end of the week” may be what some call a SMART goal, but “What can I do now to get a new customer?” is the one that motivates action the most.

9. Questions for Self-Reflection

As powerful thinking tools that they are, questions can help you examine your life and help you get in touch with your inner self. They work very well with standard self-reflection techniques, such as many forms of journaling.

A great exercise is to create a list of 100 consisting only of questions — the questions that matter the most to you at the moment (these can range from “Where did I left my keys?” to “What’s my life mission?”). From that list, narrow it down to ten or twenty items, creating your own List of Great Questions, which you can revisit often to reconnect with the pursuits that really matter to you.

An extension of that technique you may want to try is taking each of those questions and journaling about them, devoting a journal entry for each question, just like in the Topics du Jour technique. This gives you the opportunity to focus your attention on each question at regular intervals.

10. Questioning as a Way of Life

Developing the habit of questioning is perhaps the greatest hallmark of highly-developed minds. I believe that questioning is the ultimate tool to stimulate thinking and, as such, it’s hard to dispute the usefulness and importance of cultivating this habit.

But how do we develop the habit of questioning? The answer, just like everything else in life, is practice, practice, practice. Always carry a notebook with you and keep writing questions down as they come to you.

Question everything. Become comfortable with unanswered questions. Don’t see them as problems, or as a necessary evil in your way to answers. Welcome them. Play with them. Your brain will thank you.

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How to Become an Expert: A Roadmap https://litemind.com/expert-roadmap/ https://litemind.com/expert-roadmap/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2009 18:55:42 +0000 http://litemind.com/?p=97 Wouldn’t you like to intuitively know the right answers? Enter the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition, which shines a light on how we develop and master skills, helping us understand how we progress from novice to expert, including all the steps in between.

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Roadmap for Mastery

Wouldn’t you like to be an expert? To intuitively know the right answers? Enter the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition, which shines a light on how we develop and master skills, helping us understand how we progress from novice to expert, including all the steps in between.

Experts are Not Just Supercharged Novices

There’s much more to mastering a skill than just acquiring more knowledge. Just like adults are not simply bigger children, experts are not only smarter, more knowledgeable or faster than novices. The differences can be found at a more fundamental level, such as in how they perceive the world and approach problems.

Let’s take a familiar example: cooking. The novice cook needs detailed recipes to prepare even the simplest of dishes; the expert chef doesn’t need explicit recipes at all. It’s not that the chef memorized all the recipes. In fact, if he needs to make an unexpected change in how a dish is prepared — even one that was never made before — he can intuitively pull it off. Experienced folks seem to ‘just know’, don’t they?

To understand how that works, let’s turn to the ideas developed by brothers Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus in the early 80s, the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. Their model breaks down the journey to mastery in five discrete stages, outlining what’s necessary to improve at each of them. Let’s see.

The 5 Skill Levels

1. Novices

The main goal of novices is to accomplish immediate tasks. Since they have little or no previous experience, they’re usually insecure and are focused only on having their first successes. Novices need clear rules and unambiguous instructions, and to concentrate on following them strictly. As such, they commonly don’t feel responsible for anything other than correctly following what was passed to them (“I’m just following orders!”).

To improve, novices usually need close monitoring to bring their actions as close as possible to achieve what is expected by adhering to the rules.

2. Advanced Beginners

Advanced beginners still operate following rules, but they’re able to apply them not only on the exact situations that they were intended for, but also on similar contexts. The once-rigid rules become more like guidelines. Advanced beginners try new things out, but still have difficulty troubleshooting problems. Just like novices, they’re still focused on completing tasks — they don’t want lengthy theorizing and don’t have much interest in the big picture.

To improve, advanced beginners need to gain experience dealing with real situations, preferably in limited and controlled situations (with much of the ‘real-world complexity’ filtered out).

3. Competent

As the rules and guidelines become prohibitively complex, practitioners begin organizing and sorting them by relevance, forming conceptual models. Competent practitioners can troubleshoot problems, and will work based on deliberate planning and past experience. They are willing to make decisions and to accept responsibility for their outcomes.

To improve, competent practitioners need exposure to a wide variety of typical, real-world, ‘whole’ situations. By dealing with those, they better grasp the connections between the isolated conceptual models they already use.

4. Proficient

Proficient practitioners create not only conceptual models, but a conceptual framework around their whole skill. They want the big picture, and become frustrated with oversimplified information. They’re conscious of their performance and can adjust their behaviors accordingly. They can also use and adapt others’ experiences, as well as grasp and apply maxims — which require much more sophisticated interpretation than mere rules or guidelines (as they’re much more generic and context-dependent).

To advance to the fifth and last level, proficient practitioners need even more practice — lots of it. And, as much as possible, they should practice without being hindered by policies or guidelines. The intuition of the expert starts with a vast pool of practical knowledge, and that can only be developed by experimenting freely.

5. Experts

The hallmark of experts is intuition: they just do what works — no explicit analysis or planning is involved. While proficient practitioners can intuitively identify problems, experts can go and intuitively solve them. They tap into their vast pool of knowledge and effortlessly identify patterns, applying solutions in context. Although experts are amazingly intuitive, they are usually rather inarticulate in explaining how they arrived at a conclusion.

Although technically this is the last stage in the model, experts never cease to practice and evolve in subtle ways, incorporating rarer and exceptional cases in their knowledge pool.

Common Themes: What Are the Fundamental Changes?

By looking at the five levels from a higher altitude, we can distill some common themes that emerge as one progresses from novice to expert:

  • Moving away from relying on rules and explicit knowledge to intuition and pattern matching.
  • Better filtering, where problems are no longer a big collection of data but a complete and unique whole where some bits are much more relevant than others.
  • Moving from being a detached observer of the problem to an involved part of the system itself, accepting responsibility for results, not just for carrying out tasks.

Lessons from the Dreyfus Model

How can we use the Dreyfus model in everyday life? Find below some key takeaways and ideas that speak most loudly to me. (I’m sure there are many others — feel free to contribute in the comments!)

  • Make skills acquisition as productive as possible. This is true both for individuals as well as for teams. By having a better idea of your skill level, you’re able to give yourself (or others in your team) exactly what’s needed at that particular level. If you want novices to operate at their best, they will need unambiguous rules. On the other hand, bothering the experts with intricate rules and policies is a recipe for frustration and bringing their performance down. We want to avoid ‘racing sheep and herding horses’.
  • Use it as a standard guidance and assessment framework. The Dreyfus model gives us a no-nonsense way to assess and compare skill levels in many contexts. We could use it to design better learning materials and courses, or salary ladders based strictly on skill level. Granted, the model is not 100% objective, but it’s much better than many ‘fluffy’ assessment tools I’ve seen around.
  • Pair up mentors and apprentices effectively. I’ve seen a big misconception many times, which is that the better you are at a skill the better mentor you’ll be. Not at all! In fact, experts can be the worst possible mentors, as they may lack the language (not to mention the patience) to deal with novices. It’s usually better to pair up people who are not more than two levels apart. That way, the mentor has significantly more experience than the apprentice, and can also hark back to the time he was an apprentice himself.

A Book Recommendation

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning
Most of the ideas in this article were taken from the book Pragmatic Thinking and Learning, which is my new all-time-favorite ‘how-to-use-your-brain’ kind of book.

If you’re interested in more details on the Dreyfus model, as well as many techniques and practical concepts for brain development, I highly recommend you to grab a copy. (Note: The book is marketed for software developers, but I found it’s highly readable and useful for ‘normal people’ as well) 😉

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How to Learn (Almost) Anything https://litemind.com/learn-anything/ https://litemind.com/learn-anything/#comments Sun, 08 Mar 2009 20:55:09 +0000 http://litemind.com/?p=91 Have you ever read an informative book, only to later remember just a few main points — if anything at all? The problem might be that you’re using one of the least efficient ways of learning available.

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How to Learn (Almost) Anything

This is a guest post by Glen Allsopp of PluginID.

Have you ever read an informative book, only to later remember just a few main points — if anything at all? The problem might be that you’re using one of the least efficient ways of learning available.

The Cone of Learning

I remember back about 7 years ago when I was taking music lessons at school, there was a poster on the wall that really grabbed my attention. To be fair, it wasn’t difficult for a random object to attract your gaze as our Scottish teacher at the time didn’t have much in the way of keeping you interested. The poster outlined the different ways that we remember things and how different activities increase our chances of remembering something over others.

Cone of Learning
Image Credit

After doing some research, I found that the contents of that poster were based upon the work of Edgar Dale back in 1969. Dale looked at the most effective ways of learning by teaching people similar material in different ways and noted the ability to recall the information after the teaching was finished.

Today, many of you may know this as the Cone of Learning, but beware: although the cone is in fact based upon the results of Dale’s research, the percentage figures were never actually cited by Dale, and added by others after the initial investigation.

Even though the Cone of Learning that became widespread contains erroneous figures, it does represent a guideline for the most effective learning techniques that the human brain is able to acquire and store information from.

Based on the research we can see that:

  • The least effective way to learn something is to listen to a lecture on the topic or read information about it.
  • The most effective way to learn something is to teach others and use it in our own lives.

The Cone of Learning suggests why you are more likely to remember parts of a movie than you are from a book on the same topic. A film uses audio and visual aspects that the brain is more likely to store and hold available for recollection (memory).

Learning Almost Anything

After we discard the erroneous percentage figures, we still must take the cone as just a guideline — one which is subject to change depending on the learning style of the student or the studied subject. Different aspects such as what you want to remember and how often you put it into use will greatly impact how well you remember something. That being said, other things equals, the cone is a great guideline to follow to better imprint something to memory.

On that note, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the best ways to use the Cone of Learning concept, and apply it to an everyday example that we can relate to. The example I’m going to use in the following tips is looking at the best methods you could use to learn what yoga is and remember the necessary positions that are used.

  • Give a Lecture. Although receiving a lecture is one of the worst ways to remember what you are being told, giving a lecture is one of the most effective. You could go into any college or university and offer to give a lecture on the topic of yoga and the many positions that are used.
  • Write an Article. If you have a blog or a website you could spend time putting together an article on what yoga is all about and the movements that are often used in this meditative practice. Additionally, you could also create images to be used on the site to help explain the certain actions involved.
  • Make a Video. Even if you don’t have your own blog or website, there are plenty of video portals such as Youtube and Metacafe that will allow you to upload your own videos for free. This will be effective as you can teach in the lecture format but know that you are instructing to a potentially worldwide audience.
  • Discuss with Your Friends. One of the easiest teaching options that you have available to you are the members of your social circle. Wherever appropriate, bring up a topic you would like to discuss and share your wealth of knowledge on it. The more people you can discuss it with the better your ability will be to remember it in the future.
    Additionally, there are literally hundreds of ways you can discuss it online using the likes of online forums, twitter or even niche social networks.
  • Do it Yourself. It’s no use trying your best to teach others about Yoga if it’s something you aren’t interested in and don’t do yourself. If you teach people the importance of controlling their breathing, then when you are performing Yoga in your own time… make sure you are controlling your breathing. Whatever you would teach others, you need to make sure you are implementing yourself.

There are certainly more ways that you could look into teaching others and applying things into your own life. From holding classes in your house to simply creating an audio file of you speaking, see how you can apply teaching about your subject to learn more about a topic.

Exceptions to the Rule

As with most things in life, this isn’t going to apply to every single person, every single time. For example, from my research into this, it is claimed that autistic people are much more likely to learn from visual images rather than trying to teach someone else or do it themselves. Also, I know many people who have a strong preference for auditory learning over visual, for instance.

Additionally, as stated, the figures in the cone are to be used as a guideline, some people will have a high success rate at learning through teaching others while for some it may not be as successful. Generally, look at the ones which are deemed to be the most effective and try the ones which work best for you.

So, what are you going to do to improve your learning now?

About Glen Allsopp

Glen Allsopp writes in order to inspire, awaken and motivate people into being who they want to be and living the life they want to live. You can learn more about him at his Personal Development blog.

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