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February 1, 2017

The Heart of Learning

Four strategies to ask better questions, enhance learning, and improve study

How can students and missionaries ask better questions in their studies?

In the words of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Latter-day Saints “are a question-­asking people because we know that inquiry leads to truth.” By asking effective questions, PathwayConnect students and missionaries alike will become more capable learners.

The following four tips will help students and missionaries to do just that — ask questions to deepen their learning as they study in PathwayConnect.

1. Use Open-ended Questions

Open-ended questions require thought and active pursuit of an answer; they are the opposite of yes-or-no questions. They invite the asker to work hard to answer the question. This effort will help you achieve a better grasp of the information.

Examples of effective questions

  • What is the main idea of this reading?
  • How would this principle apply in another situation?
  • What examples of this principle have I seen in my life?
  • Why is this concept important to the topic I’m studying?
  • How would I explain this to someone else?
  • What other questions should I ask?

We can easily learn to re-work questions to be open-ended. One of the best ways to ensure that our questions are open-ended is by using the following six words: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Nearly any question beginning with one of these words is an open-ended question, and will help us find important answers. Just remember these few lines from the short story “The Elephant’s Child” by writer and Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling:

I keep six honest serving men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

Any sentence formed using Kipling’s “six honest serving men,” will be open-ended and specific, and, if used properly, will lead to deeper learning.

2. Start with What is Known

Pathway promos simulated institute class taught by Gene Hayes.

Asking questions in your studies can deepen your understanding and give you a greater command over the subject.

In the Book of Mormon, while Nephi is being shown the vision of the tree of life, the Spirit of the Lord asks him this question: “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” Nephi replies: “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”

Here, Nephi demonstrates an excellent starting point for learning something new. When beginning with the information we already have, we can use that awareness to craft effective questions. Nephi’s statement of what he did know — “I know that he loveth his children” — opened the way for the Lord to build on his understanding.

If we start our studies with “I know,” it will be easier to ask questions later. Like knowing what food we already have before we buy more, this principle will help us see where we need to focus our energy as we learn. We will be able to build on what we already know, using it as a starting point to discover and understand new concepts.

3. Explore the Unknown

Once we recognize what we know, we appreciate how much more there is to learn. By exploring the gaps in our understanding, we can begin to craft questions that will lead us to greater knowledge.

Our questions should probe at every part of the subject we are studying, and lead us along the road to understanding.

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Socrates pioneered a teaching style that taught students to search for answers to their questions. (Attribution: flickr)

Socrates, a Greek philosopher who lived in the fifth century B.C., asked his followers questions to help them arrive at truth. His approach to teaching, now known as the Socratic method, was very effective in his day and has since influenced other great philosophers and leaders such as Plato, Aristotle, and Voltaire. Today, it is still widely used to teach and improve critical thinking by encouraging students to take control of their own learning.

Asking questions to explore gaps in our own knowledge is an excellent way to receive the Lord’s promise, “ask, and ye shall receive.” As we ask, we learn that questions play a meaningful role in our progression — we show faith and use our agency to pursue a worthy goal. If we can ask and answer questions, we can take control of our learning and achieve our potential.

4. Follow Scriptural Examples

In the scriptures, we learn about many men and women of God, humbly and faithfully asking questions. By observing and following their examples in our studies, we can find specific principles to help us ask questions.

Asking Questions in Scripture

The story of the first vision is a great example of how asking questions can lead to discovering truth. Joseph Smith wanted to know which church was the true Church of God, and so, as he studied the scriptures and various churches, he often asked himself questions: “What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?”

Joseph Smith’s sincere questions led to a world-altering experience. 

Joseph’s questions were open-ended; he honestly acknowledged what he did not know and diligently searched for knowledge he needed. He studied and searched in faith, constantly inviting truth into his life, and he eventually received an answer that changed the world.

Good Questions and Good Answers

We invite truth into our lives as we inquire — as we become a question-asking people. Remember, the Lord wants to bless us with knowledge and understanding, but often He waits for us to inquire first. In the words of Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “There are more good answers than we have good questions.” Let us find those good questions, apply these principles in our studies, and start finding answers!

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