Instructional Designers And Developing Critical Thinking Through Socratic Inquiry
Following are my thoughts on why Socratic Inquiry can be an invaluable tool in the hands of Instructional Designers:
I had the good fortune to be taught as a boy and young man in the Socratic tradition. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I assumed everybody was taught that way.
Sadly, it is a method that has now fallen out of favor, but in truth it is more appropriate than ever to all of us in this new economy.
Let me explain the Socratic Method by recounting an episode from my school days.
In response to an assignment on Shakespeare’s famous buffoon Falstaff, I wrote an essay in which I expressed my dislike for the man whom most critics hailed as a great comedic figure. Being from a family that lost men in two world wars, I did not like Falstaff referring to soldiers as “cannon fodder”. I did not find his greed, misogyny, and gluttony humorous either. And I wrote an essay explaining my point of view.
Here’s where Socratic Inquiry comes in. The subject under discussion –Falstaff’s character– has no right or wrong answer; just an opinion, a subjective point of view; an argument could be made either way. And here’s the main takeaway: It was the quality of the argument and the critical thinking I deployed that mattered most to my teachers.
So, adhering to the Socratic tradition, my teacher did not tell me I was wrong, and did not tell me I was right. He simply began asking questions about why I had come to believe what I did. He did not argue he interrogated me, and in doing so forced me to think critically, and then orally defend the positions I had written in my essay - in front of my classmates. Each time I answered one of his questions I was greeted by yet another question, until my teacher was satisfied that I had thought my position through satisfactorily. It was like Jeopardy; an answer was inevitably followed by another question.
Then we would do all this in groups, questioning one another with the teacher quietly guiding us from the sidelines as we discussed a topic. Or we would debate an issue with none of us knowing which side of the debate we would be arguing until just before it started. It was a rigorous and I have to admit at times an annoying educational method. But I would not swap it for the didactic, lecture-style one we have today.
I can remember this same teacher asking me this question “What on earth gives you the idea I am here to teach you?”. I have never forgotten those ideas. If you are an Instructional Designer you shouldn’t either.
I could not prove Falstaff was an undesirable or unlikeable character. No one can. It’s a matter of opinion. And that’s my point. In this new age we find ourselves needing to make rapid judgments about ambiguous, arguable, and sometimes paradoxical situations and at the same time dealing with a torrent of data. And critical thinking by questioning –especially in a group– is a skill designed for just such situations. But it is a skill we are abandoning in favor of memorization. To such an extent that our children now equate memorization and critical thinking; and that is dangerous. But that is what our schools have been ordered to do. And they are doing this just as the hydrants are spewing out data harder and faster than ever.
As I said I have never forgotten those classroom lessons, and my Terego Enterprise Training Method is designed around those same Socratic principles to show teams how, through persistent questioning, they can embark on a Knowledge Mining exercise by
- Searching out the right problem to solve.
- Collaborating in a manner conducive to solving that problem, by
- Thinking critically about the right problem, and
- Communicating an agreed solution to the right problem.
Click here and register and spend 15-20 minutes with my demonstration –at no cost– deciding if Critical Thinking Through Socratic Inquiry is for you. If it is then buy the book ($9.99) and you will be off to a good start. Happy Knowledge Mining! May Socrates smile on your endeavors!