I am not a teacher, but in my career I gave much on-the-job training to others.

Over time I discovered that the best way to help people is to guide them to find the answer instead of giving the answer. A typical scenario would be that John, say, would come to me and say “I’ve been working on this problem for hours, I can’t find the answer.”

I would probably know if John already knew the answer but hadn’t yet put two-and-two together. In this case I’d ask him to explain what steps he’d taken. Funnily enough, even that simple request – asking John to verbalise what he’d done – brought the “Aha!” moment. If not then I’d ask a very general question – “so what else could have caused this”, and then shut up, giving time for John to think. If that didn’t help I’d narrow down to a smaller area “OK, you mentioned so-and-so… why did you focus on that?” Normally this type of conversation yielded results, and John arrived at the answer by himself. Normally John would remember this – but nobody’s perfect.

If I knew that John’s knowledge was lacking, then again, instead of giving the answer, I would try to make a connection from what he knew to what he didn’t know. So I would generalise about the new information and ask something like “given what you know, how does that relate to what I just told you?” I was aiming for John to create a new connection in his brain rather than hearing an unconnected answer.

So from my career experience I am convinced that leading people to new knowledge by question is far better than just giving it to them. And the more connections that can be made the more chance there is of at least one connection being retained.

An excellent article about this is here…


I have posted an answer to the question “How can the traditional classroom enable students to learn successfully”. That answer describes my experience in teaching such a class by question and answer.

Added: Jan. 12, 2018, 6:32 p.m. Last change: Jan. 12, 2018, 6:32 p.m.

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