Learn to Discern: What Would You Rather Have, Great Answers or Great Questions?

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Questions enable us to organize our thinking around what we don’t know.

As a child, I remember always having a million questions in mind at any moment. Unfortunately for the adults around me, providing an answer would often lead to a new string of questions, and them realizing that my stamina to keep asking had no upper limit. My child-self carried no concept of ignorance, and didn’t care how not knowing the answer could be perceived as something to be ashamed of.

As I’ve gotten older, that innocent curiosity within me slowly became jaded and self-aware. Somewhere in my story of growing up, I began to believe that the only thing that matters is becoming a walking library of “correct answers,” and to never allow my ignorance to be publicly exposed. 

I’m not sure when I lost that sense of innocent curiosity, but I’m on a mission to reawaken this part of myself.

In my time at Curious Lion, I’ve learned there is wisdom in ignorance. I’ve been taught to embrace challenges with a beginner’s mindset; even when I’m considered the expert in the room. 

I still value and cherish all that I know, but I embrace that there will always be more to learn. 

Our world is changing, quickly; and we barely have time to mourn the death of old assumptions, before radically new assumptions are born. The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the new era it represents will force us to reconsider how we structure learning, how we operate business and even what it means to be human. 

But let’s rewind a few steps, and start at my beginning.

Born in South Africa in 1994, I’m a millennial, a unique generation raised through the transition from analogue life to digital. Tasting both lives, a naive witness to the slow fade of the former, I’ve only recently realized how profound that transition truly was. 

The transition from analogue to digital is like a revolution in slow motion. It’s changing everything, but we don’t always see it happening.” – Kevin Kelly

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The Ushering of the Age of Technology

I remember a time when questions were answered by physical research. The words encyclopedia and library come to mind.

There was no such thing as information at your fingertips. If you wanted knowledge, you had to work for it! Information was scarce, distributed and often dependent on the state of your library fines. Fast forward to now, and information is everywhere. More information than we know what to do with, so much so that it’s become difficult to know what is true. 

Fake news, alternative facts and opposing truisms flood the internet every moment of every day. It’s become possible to find “evidence” to support any conceivable perspective, as well as a community to be an echo chamber for this perspective. There are answers in the air, only ever an internet connection and a few keystrokes away, but the ability to parse through those answers and find a pattern of truth seems to be in short supply.

Learning to discern these patterns of truth amidst the infinite sea of information is a crucial skill to possess in today’s world. Doing so requires critical thinking, skepticism, and an understanding of how information is produced, shared, and verified. To develop this skill, it is essential to cultivate a habit of questioning the information we receive, fact-checking sources, and seeking out diverse perspectives. 

This is discernment.

By honing our ability to discern, we can make informed decisions and navigate the complex landscape of information abundance with confidence.

In my work at Curious Lion, I am constantly confronted by what I know, what I do not know and what I must know. Learning about how to design learning has broken my brain in the most beautiful way, and has given me a love for questions that can only be matched by my love for answers. 

In the digital era, through the internet, we’ve solved the problem of information scarcity. Our new challenge is to find better ways to comprehend this wealth of information, and transform it into knowledge and from there into wisdom. 

The difference between knowledge and wisdom is one helps you make a living, the other helps you create and navigate life.” – Fagrie Vraagom

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Where it All Went Wrong

In school, I was taught to memorize answers and appeal to authority.

Cultivating curiosity was considered “useful,” but not nearly as important as repeating the “right answer.” The idea that there might not be a “right answer,” or that there might be many “right answers” never seemed to be seriously considered. 

The memorandum was gospel, the curriculum etched in stone. 

I recall this persistent feeling of fear associated with asking questions. Many would rather give an answer, be wrong and move on, than dare to ask an earnest question and have their confusion or uncertainty exposed. 

But memorization and authority were the dominant modes of learning in the past when information was scarce. The digital era requires a different approach to learning and teaching. Instead of simply memorizing answers, it is crucial to learn how to ask the right questions and critically evaluate the information presented to us. 

Learning to discern also involves an understanding of how information is created, distributed, and consumed in the digital era. Information spreads rapidly, and it’s challenging to distinguish between credible sources and misinformation. With the speed of technological change and the increasing complexity of global challenges, the ability to think creatively and adapt to new situations is crucial. This means being comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, fueled by a willingness to experiment and take risks.

In a world where the “right answer” is seldom clear, learning to discern requires us to develop a growth mindset and the intellectual maturity to not only learn from failure, but to actively seek the lesson in failure. By fostering curiosity as we nurture our love of learning, we can become more adaptable, resilient, and effective learners in the digital era.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein

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Where it All Goes Right

Discernment involves recognizing the limitations of our own knowledge and being open to learning from others, at any given moment. This requires the ability to listen actively, empathize with different viewpoints, and embrace the uncomfortable feeling of being wrong or ignorant.

I write these thoughts as an adult, but they remind me of what it was like as a child, with questions in my eyes and a hunger for wonder that always wanted to wander.

Great questions stimulate creativity, unlocking new pathways of thought, which lead to new perspectives and insightful new answers. Questions challenge our assumptions and are the first step to discerning the real, from the almost real. It is essential to be able to ask the right questions to help us navigate this abundant, ambiguous information landscape.

Great questions help us challenge our assumptions, identify biases, and uncover hidden connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information. Moreover, in a world where the pace of change is accelerating, asking great questions can help us anticipate and prepare for future challenges. By developing our questioning skills, we can become more effective problem-solvers, more informed decision-makers, and more creative thinkers.

Asking great questions is not only a powerful tool for learning to discern, but is also an essential skill for personal and professional growth.

More than crafting new answers for an uncertain future, we’d be better served by first nurturing our ability to ask better questions, and from there grow our ability to discern a pattern of truth in the answers we find.

Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go.” – Clayton Christensen

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Foundational Skills For the Digital Era

It’s hard not to notice the rapid changes taking place in our world.

With each passing day, new advancements in technology and innovation are altering the very fabric of our society. The interconnectedness of our systems and issues has made it more difficult than ever to navigate through the complexities of our world. And as we continue to integrate the digital realm into our everyday lives, we are faced with the challenge of understanding what is real and what is not. 

The question is: can we keep up with this exponential evolution, or will we be left behind?

Our world is evolving exponentially and becoming more complex than ever, with numerous interconnected systems and issues that can be challenging to understand and navigate. We’ve been introduced to the digital realm and made it a fundamental part of basic reality, blurring the definition of what is “real” along the way. 

Our concept of “real” used to be relatively straightforward: it referred to the physical world around us and our tangible experiences within it. However, as we’ve grown more immersed in the digital realm, the boundaries between the physical and virtual have become almost invisible. We now have the ability to create and manipulate digital content in ways that can be indistinguishable from reality, and we’ve even created entire virtual environments that can be just as immersive as the physical world. This is shifting our understanding of what is “real,” and has raised new questions about the nature of reality itself.

To compound the situation, the biggest theme of 2023 seems to be humanity saying, “Hello World” to new forms of AI, more advanced than anything we’ve encountered before and upskilling itself everyday.

What a time to be alive.

In writing this, I asked ChatGPT (an AI-powered chatbot platform that allows users to ask questions and receive intelligent, personalized answers), “When did the digital era begin?” It told me:

The digital era is generally considered to have started in the mid-1990s with the introduction of the internet and personal computers. This marked the beginning of a new era of digital technology, which has since become a central part of our lives.”

I am not a Instructional Designer, but in working closely with those who are, I’ve noticed that learning and development is in a constant state of adapting to life in the digital era. With technology advancing at an exponential rate, attempting to keep up with the latest tools and platforms for delivering effective learning experiences quickly becomes overwhelming. 

Remote work has become commonplace and AI is on the rise. Things aren’t as they once were, and the rate of change isn’t slowing down.

Instructional Designers need to continuously adapt their strategies and techniques. In the digital era, it is not enough to simply transfer traditional classroom-based content to an online platform. The focus must be on creating engaging, interactive, and personalized learning experiences that cater to the diverse needs of learners.

Moreover, with remote work becoming more common, the need for effective virtual collaboration and communication skills has become crucial. As AI and automation continue to transform the workplace, Instructional Designers must also consider how to integrate these technologies into their learning strategies, such as using chatbots for personalized learning support or incorporating virtual simulations to enhance problem-solving skills.

By embracing the opportunities presented by the digital era and continuously adapting to new technologies, Instructional Designers can create effective learning experiences that meet the needs of learners in a rapidly changing world.

We generate new information and accumulate knowledge faster than our ability to generate meaning, insight or wisdom. Now, more than ever, we need to learn to discern and enable others to do the same. 

The future is curious and discernment is a foundational skill for the digital era. It empowers the learner to create clarity from confusion, and is the key ingredient that transforms knowledge into wisdom.

Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.” – Charles Spurgeon

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Learn to Discern: A How-To Guide

In writing this, I’ve had to strongly consider my own relationship with discernment and think through the mental shortcuts I use to make sense of this abundant flow of information.

I work for Curious Lion as a Creative Engineer, which involves creating the multimedia assets that form part of the e-learnings we design, as well being a source of inventive new ideas and solving any creative problems along the way. I might not be an Instructional Designer, but it’s become clear to me that improving discernment is critical to making informed decisions about how to create effective learning experiences. It’s a key skill for anyone involved in learning and development, especially now. 

Improving the ability to discern is one of the greatest gifts any learning journey can offer a student. Here are 5 practical actions you can take to improve your discernment:

  1. Stay current with research and evaluate across multiple sources
    To make informed decisions, it’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest research and best practices in learning design. This means regularly reading articles, attending conferences, and engaging with other learning professionals to stay informed.When reading research or other materials, it’s important to do so across different perspectives and positions, but equally important to evaluate the source of the information. Is the author reputable? Is the study methodologically sound? Being able to critically evaluate sources will help you discern what information is credible and what is not. Maintaining this habit allows you to find a pattern of consistent truth across multiple voices and perspectives.
  2. Practice empathy
    Developing empathy for your learners will help you design learning experiences that are more relevant and effective. Spend time observing and listening to your learners, and try to understand their perspectives and needs.This makes it easier to design learning that first considers the learner, and becomes a filter that helps you discern what it is your particular set of learners actually need to grow and transform.
  3. Practice mindfulness
    Mindfulness is the practice of being present and fully engaged in the current moment. It can help you develop a clearer and more focused mind to find the signal in the noise. By cultivating mindfulness, we can develop a greater ability to focus our attention and filter out distractions, allowing us to more effectively discern what’s important and make more informed decisions.Also, mindfulness can help us become more aware of our own biases and assumptions, enabling us to approach information with greater objectivity and critical thinking skills. Consider incorporating mindfulness practices such as active reflection, meditation or breathing exercises into your daily routine.
  4. Keep asking questions, even if you already have answers
    The road to discernment is paved by asking questions. This helps you uncover blind spots or areas that you might not have considered before. It can help you clarify any assumptions you might have about your learners and help you identify opportunities for improvement in the learning experience.Asking questions can also help you gather diverse perspectives from different stakeholders, such as learners, instructors, and subject matter experts. By gathering a range of perspectives, you can gain a more holistic understanding of the learning experience and make more informed decisions.
  5. Seek feedback
    Finally, it’s important to seek feedback from learners, instructors, and other stakeholders. This provides valuable insight into what’s working well and what needs improvement, helping you make more informed decisions about how to design effective learning experiences.It’s the litmus test that confirms whether you’re on the right path or if you’ve been designing under the wrong set of assumptions. It’s also important to remember that you’re not alone, and that you don’t have to have all the answers all the time.
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Generate Response

The digital era demands that we create effective ways to transform this abundance of information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom. This is the role of learning and development. 

But here’s the catch: the new digital tools at our disposal can be as helpful as they are harmful. Discerning the difference will require critical curiosity and a willingness to question.

Tap into the curious child within you. Ask the questions, gain the understanding and start transforming your relationship with learning today.

So, what would you rather have, an abundance of great answers or a lifetime of great questions?

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