How to Engage ELearners Through Questioning Techniques

Questioning learners has always been a very effective tool in the arsenal of instructors. In an eLearning context however, because of the physical separation of teachers and learners, the use of questioning techniques attains even more relevance. What course developers and instructors can’t assess through visual observation and in-person interactions, they must accomplish through innovative questioning techniques.

 

5 ELearning Questioning Strategies

Before online course developers and instructional designers start creating their question banks, it is vital to understand the objectives that are sought to be accomplished from the questions. Questions should then be built around a comprehensive strategy, which key elements should include:

 

  • Communication: Using strategically designed questions, evaluate whether there is a high degree of communication between learners and instructors. If the response reveals lack of good communication, then your instructional objectives are unlikely to be accomplished
  • Comprehension: The questions may be designed to assess whether the distance learner has comprehended the essence of what has been presented via the lesson plans
  • Cooperation: Teaching shouldn’t be a 2-way “thing”. eLearners must also be encouraged to interact amongst/between their peers. Well designed questions can help facilitate (and assess the level or absence of) such cooperation
  • Creativity: There is a limit (compared to in-class sessions) to what eLearning can deliver. As such, instructors must rely upon questioning techniques to unlock the creativity from within each distant learner
  • Critical Thinking: Some subject matter is so diverse, that it requires learners to form their own opinions and ideas about what’s being taught. In such cases, the level of comprehension cannot be assessed through traditional questioning techniques. eLearning content designers must develop questions that encourage and evaluate critical thinking amongst learners  

 

Because online instructors aren’t available on-premises, and due to other time and distance constraints with eLearning, questioning techniques that fully validate that the course material has been appropriately delivered and received must be developed

 

8 Clever Ways To Engage Learners Through Questioning

Better engagement leads to greater success in accomplishing your learning objectives. So, everything you do when developing your question bank, should be geared towards improving learner engagement. Here are some practical tips for developing and using questions to enhance eLearner engagement:

 

1)    Construct with clarity

A clearly formulated question will significantly enhance learner engagement; while ambiguous questioning only serves to heighten disengagement and confusion. Avoid the urge to pose compound questions (“Who is credited with this discovery; and when and why did it take so long to become public?), because they can lead to unnecessary misunderstanding of the intent of the questions.

2)    Provide “hints” with caution

In providing helpful annotated materials along with the question, instructional designers may inadvertently offer too many hints about the correct response. Therefore, you need to think carefully about the “prompts” that you offer. As distant educators, you are not privy to facial expressions or body language. As such, you need to exercise additional caution when developing supplemental “help text” around your questions.

3)    Beware of falling into your own trap

This tip is a continuation to #2 discussed above.

Many eLearners will first quickly scan through all of the questions available and, by “process of elimination”, pick the right answer based on subtle hints offered in previous/following questions. Therefore, when creating your bank of questions, make sure that the text from follow-up questions does not inadvertently provide the learner with the answers to some of those questions.

If responses to questions are overly predictable, your learners will soon disengage.

4)    Vary your question bank

Don’t just create questions for a specific set of cognitive skills. The most effective questions are designed to engage learners from across a broad spectrum of cognitive levels. Broaden your questions so that they cover a wide array of knowledge domains, and which are therefore designed to challenge a wider section of your learners.

Additionally, mix-up the types of questions you are asking so that responders aren’t overly “bored” from repeatedly answering the same question (albeit worded differently!) over and over.

5)    Question based on type of course

In developing your questions, make sure you “design to course”. So, for instance, if this is an introductory course (“Human Resource Policies 101”), you should weight your question banks towards lower-level questions. On the other hand, capstone courses or more advanced content, requires more higher-level questions.

However, some advanced course question banks should also include an initial set of lower-level questions, just to establish prior knowledge. To keep distance learners engaged, make sure your course objectives, and the complexity of its content, drives how you structure your questions.

6)    Sequence your questions appropriately

As noted earlier on in this post: Your questions must be designed to “…fully validate that the course material has been appropriately delivered and received.” With that in mind, you must sequence your questions in a way that they do not unduly confuse or intimidate your audience.

One best practice is to start out with a series of lower-level questions about a specific subject, so that learners feel psychologically prepared to engage with what’s ahead. Then, gradually introduce higher-order questions, so that respondents can build upon the confidence gained in dealing with prior lower-level questions.

7)    Striking the right balance

If your questions are overly slanted towards a particular type of questioning, there is a great likelihood that your learners will disengage quickly. To achieve the right balance of questions, include a mix of divergent as well as convergent questions spanning multiple cognitive levels, and from across varying knowledge domains.

8)    Create “deliberate distractions”

The easiest way to achieve total learner disengagement, is to fire a barrage of True/False or Multiple-Choice questions at the respondent. While this might be an effective way to ensure you cover the entire syllabus quickly and efficiently, it can also lead to fatigue and distraction.

One way to overcome this problem is to introduce some “deliberate distractions” at strategic intervals. For example, after answering a series of (15 to 20) T/F or Multiple-choice questions, you could present the learner with a set of videos or graphics, and then pose additional questions (these may be open-ended, Multi-choice or T/F) around those videos/images/animations.

 

How To Make Questioning Work

As long as there has been teaching, there has been questioning. Within an eLearning environment however, it is imperative that educators take a new perspective at the taxonomy of questioning. For instance, instead of asking factual recall-testing convergent questions, include a healthy measure of divergent questions that facilitate deeper thinking.

To stimulate greater engagement, your questioning strategy should also take into consideration the type of course and the complexity of the content being presented. While lower-level questions work best for novice courses, to keep the learner engaged, more advanced eLearning courses should include higher-level questioning.

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