Learning through open questions

Praveen S
Wednesday, June 28, 2023

 How should a student interact with his study materials- books, videos, exercises etc.? Purpose of student interactions with these study materials should be of open ended nature. Rather than trying to learn from it, or memorizing the content, the student should strive to find the open questions concerning the reading.
This means that the student essentially work like a scientist.  Working like a scientist automatically makes him learn like a scientist. A scientist never learns anything. He pursues open questions. While he tackle these open questions, he automatically learns his subjects. Only after mastery of his subjects or gaining a sufficient level of expertise only the scientist will be able to pursue to such open questions. On such quests to purse the open questions, the intrinsic motivation to build the knowledge gets automatically build. Because of the intrinsic motivation, he never feels the pain of learning or remembering. These gets in a flow, a state of immersion in which the person do not realize the process he is undergoing.

Students at all levels, can emulate this process of learning based on open questions. For this, they should be encouraged to identify the open questions about anything that they interact with.
For example, a class five student is reading a short story from their English textbook. There are several open question that he can pursue, why did the author write this short story? if things did not happen the way it happened in the story what other choices would the protagonist take? As you would understand from these examples you can identify the properties of such open questions - open question s are difficult or impossible to decipher at the state of the students. Their answers will not reveal, or there in not enough data for the student to make such attempts.

Another example, when the student first learns about neutrons and protons in their science class, these can be the following open questions. What if neutron collide with proton inside a cell? What if one of them gets out accidently? The answers to these questions also will not reveal to the student initially.
When the student pursues such open questions, with interest, only way he can progress is to understand the current state of knowledge before him. This is already provided by the text book chapter. Thus the process of pursuing open question make him understand the current state of knowledge, without attempting to do so. Even if his answers to the open questions are non-sensical to you or can be considered as mere opinions, the fact that he has based it on the available knowledge to him is the best learning he can have.

After deriving these open question if the student seeks the help of google to answer these questions, then the purpose is defeated. Students should struggle with these question for sometime for the actual learning to happen. They can accomplish these as simple thought experiments. However, the best way to make use of such open questions to learn is to write their answers in detail. This will make them struggle to write down the answers. The process of writing brings clarity to their thoughts.

Students’ of all ages can learn though pursuing open question. For children, this comes naturally, unless they get these instincts of questioning restrained through adult interventions.