Socratic Questions In eLearning: What eLearning Professionals Should Know
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Socratic Questions In eLearning

As Socrates once said:

Socrates Quotes eLearning

So, it makes perfect sense that this famous ancient Greek philosopher would introduce Socratic questioning to the world, a disciplined inquiry method that requires deep thinking, thought exploration, and questioning of our assumptions. Instead of just absorbing ideas that are being offered, learners must examine the logic and reason behind those ideas.

In eLearning environments, Socratic questioning can be a powerful tool, as it gives instructors the ability to assess learner knowledge. It also helps learners to expand their comprehension of complex subject matter and probe key issues, theories, and problems.

6 Types of Socratic Questions

  1. Clarification.
    Encourages learners to examine why they are asking a question or the logic behind an opinion or idea. Clarification questions typically require an explanation as a response. Example: Why do you believe that…?
  2. Probing assumptions.
    This type of inquiry prompts learners to think about the beliefs or assumptions that are the basis of their argument. It gives them the opportunity to delve into their thought processes and figure out why they think the way they think. Example: Can you tell me why…?
  3. Probing reasons and evidence.
    This type of questions is often used as a follow-up question. When a learner provides an explanation, you can use this form of inquiry to probe deeper into the reasoning and logic behind their presuppositions. Example: Can you provide an example of…?
  4. Analyzing perspectives.
    Encourages a learner to look at the situation or problem from an opposing angle, so that they are able to see the other side of the argument. This is one of the trickiest forms of Socratic questioning, as it can make a learner feel as though they are being attacked or alienated from their peers. As such, it should be used with caution. Example: Why is your solution better than…?
  5. Probing consequences.
    Prompts learners to explore the consequences or repercussions of their assumptions and theories. Example: If you take that approach, what do you think might happen?
  6. Questioning the question.
    Asks the learner to think about the reason for asking the question, itself. This can encourage them to examine why you are calling their assumption into question. Example: Why do you believe I asked this follow-up question?

5 Tips To Use Socratic Questions in eLearning

  1. Give learners time to reflect and explore the topic.
    The beauty of Socratic questioning is that it gives learners the chance to think about their ideas and assumptions. However, in order for this to happen, you have to give them enough time to reflect, examine, and ponder the situation. After asking the question, allow them sufficient time to think about their response. This may seem like a long time in the world of eLearning, where you have to fit a whole lot of learning into a short span of time, but every second is an opportunity for them to explore the topic on their own terms.
  2. Spark an online discussion with probing questions.
    Ask a question and then let the learners take control. By asking a thought-provoking probing question that makes learners think about their opinions and presuppositions, you can spark a lively and authentic online discussion. Just make sure that it’s not offensive or too edgy, as this can alienate certain members of your audience. You won’t want to push too many boundaries.
  3. Socratic questioning is about the journey, not the destination.
    The primary objective of a Socratic question is to let your learners arrive at their own conclusions. More importantly, it gives them the chance to determine why they arrived at those conclusions. Socratic questions allow learners to explore the subject without having to worry about formulating a correct answer. They are free to use their creative and critical thinking skills however they wish to come up with new solutions to a problem and see the argument from an alternative viewpoint.
  4. Develop a list of questions beforehand to stay on-topic.
    Socratic questions in eLearning is more disciplined that other open-ended forms of inquiry. As such, you will need to have a list of questions  ready in advance to keep the online discussion on track. Otherwise, you run the risk of veering off course and venturing into irrelevant territory. Give them direction and purpose, so that they are able to examine assumptions and thoughts that are related to the subject matter. If you notice that the online discussion begins to stray away from the topic, then pose the next question on the list or come up with another related question to reel them back in.
  5. Open-ended questions lead to open minds.
    Socratic questions in eLearning should always be open-ended questions. Avoid using multiple choice or true/false questions, as they won’t give your learners the chance to explore the topic or defend their viewpoint. Also, make sure that your eLearning questions are clear and concise. Don’t try to “trick” your learners by offering vague questions just for the sake of being philosophical. Give them direct questions that they can immediately start processing, rather than having to decipher them beforehand.

Socratic questioning goes beyond fact-checking and allows the learner to examine their core values and assumptions. As a result, they are able to fully understand why they are learning the information, as well as how it can benefit them in the real world.

Higher order questions are another effective method or inquiry, as they prompt learners to explore an idea and approach problems from many different angles. Read the article Higher Order Questions In eLearning: What eLearning Professionals Should Know to find out about the types of higher order questions, as well as how to use them in your next eLearning course.

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