Stage 3 Talent

Learning New Things, Question Everything

The more we learn, and the more stuff we see, the more questions are asked.

Zac Efron, Down to Earth (Netflix)

When it comes to learning new things, you may have a lot of questions. Something we stress in our classes is that all questions are welcome. If we can’t answer the question right then and there, we will help find a source for the answer when we can. However, we’re the guides on the side, encouraging our learners to identify sources and learn more on their own, teaching them how to be resourceful in finding answers.

5 Whys

One of the concepts they may hear us encourage is the concept of 5 “why’s.” This is a strategy for getting to the root cause of a problem. Developed as part of the Toyota Production System, it is a pattern used in problem solving where five seems to be the magic number to get close to the issue’s source.

While this was initially designed for Toyota, this approach applies to more than automobile production. Consider this software example – “our website isn’t working as expected.”

  1. Why? – It looks like it isn’t loaded.
  2. Why? – The browser’s loading icon stopped.
  3. Why? – The page it loaded is blank.
  4. Why? – The content looks like it has been hidden with CSS.
  5. Why? – We were debugging our app for style purposes and hid the content.

Whoops! We uncovered the source of the problem through the 5 “why”s. It doesn’t always have to be five – Semco, for example, uses a philosophy of 3 “why’s” – but similar logic is there. Asking “why” allows us to think through situations – especially cause-and-effect—a bit easier.

The Socratic Method

Another strategy we employ in our classrooms is the Socratic method. This also involves asking a lot of questions when learning, challenging beliefs and clarifying understanding. This allows instructors to see how learners logically think through problems using critical thinking and reasoning. This also enables the learner to question fellow learners, challenge their own thinking, explain their code, their approach and understanding of concepts.

This method allows for dialogue between learners or between learners and guides. These conversations are question-driven and at the end, understanding is laid out.

The pattern for the Socratic method involves:

  1. Someone presents a belief or understanding.
  2. Another person asks for clarification or more details on that belief or understanding. This person is looking for reasons on why that belief or understanding is where it is and is seeking any flaws in the logic or understanding.
  3. If there are issues, the first person is asked to reword their belief or understanding more accurately.

Note that this process thrives when done respectfully and done in a way where the learners are comfortable being questioned. This also gets them “using their words” – a phrase I often use in the classroom. The more they practice their terminology in the classroom, the more confident they are in the professional realm.

Questioning Everything

Whether you are reading a document or parsing data, keep a curious mind and ask questions. Some questions that might come to mind include:

  • Is the source of this data reputable?
  • Are there biases in what I am reading that could impact my perspective of what I learn?
  • What is the purpose of NaN, undefined and null?
  • Why does dividing by 0 return a value – such as Infinity – in some languages and cause exceptions in other languages?
  • How do regular expressions work?
  • Can I use emoji in my code? (My favorite response to this – Try it in your code in your development environment! You may be surprised to see what you find.)

Conclusion

When you are learning something, ask questions. Whether it is trying to solve a problem with five “why’s, challenging understanding through the Socratic method, or generally questioning things, you will find that questions will help you learn more. Questions will help you learn how to question yourself and challenge your own understanding of topics. It will help you build confidence as you learn.

Stay curious, ask questions and continue to grow in your knowledge.