Modern Training

Curated Insights: Writing Good Questions

Posted on: March 24, 2017Updated on: June 19, 2023By: JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect

Can you write a good multiple choice question? After all, this is a foundational skill for a modern L&D pro, especially in large organizations that use a lot of online content. Unfortunately, it sounds a lot easier than it is. I’m confident that many of the questions we push to our employees every day are bad. And I mean BAD. As a result, employees are likely to get frustrated and “game the test” rather than take advantage of this part of the learning experience.

Many L&D pros just don’t realize how difficult it is to write a good question. In fact, there’s a science behind the use of questions to facilitate learning. Regrettably, questions are often relegated to post-training tests that are hastily developed at the last minute. Many are also written by subject matter experts with little to no experience in learning design. It may not sound as exciting as creating videos or interactive simulations, but great question design can be an essential tool for growing knowledge on critical workplace topics.

Our March curated insights explore what it takes to write effective questions and how they can be used as part of a modern learning experience.

Can you answer these 6 questions about multiple choice questions? by Cathy Moore

Here’s an oldie but a goodie! I often share this tongue-in-cheek quiz with instructional design teams to help make my point about poorly-written questions. The quiz is funny AND it drives the point home. Let’s face it. We’ve all been guilty of writing bad questions, especially early in our ID careers. Cathy provides a fun way to reflect on those mistakes and expose others that you’re potentially still making.

How to Plan, Design and Write Tests from eLearning Coach Podcast

The most recent episode of Connie Malamed’s eLearning Coach Podcast got me thinking about question development in the first place. Instructional designers all have a perspective on what makes for a good question. But where do those guidelines come from? Are they based on just experience, or does the science of learning and assessment come into play? This episode is a great follow up to Cathy’s quiz, adding a research layer to what otherwise might have been considered just common sense principles. Connie interviews author and psychometrician, Michael Rodriguez, PhD. You’ll some great how-tos when it comes to crafting better questions and learn what a psychometrician is. by Pooja Agarwal

Questions aren’t just for assessments. Say what?!?! That’s right. Questions can also be used to facilitate learning through the concept of retrieval practice. Pooja Agarwal, PhD. is a cognitive scientist and founder of Her website is a treasure trove of research, resources and practical ideas on how to use this learning strategy to strengthen knowledge retention. Retrieval practice is also at the heart of the Axonify approach. We continue to see the benefits of using questions to drive long-term retention. Pooja’s site is a great place to start, if you want to expand your use of this strategy.

The Power of Scenario-Based Questions by Will Thalheimer

Great questions yield more than just correct and incorrect answers. Questions can be used to facilitate understanding and retention and supply the motivation to apply new information. That’s the case Will Thalheimer makes for scenario-based questions in this brief article. Realistic, well constructed scenarios can help users better understand the value of the question and promote greater engagement during and after instruction. Will reinforces the need for good questions that serve a more important role than simple knowledge assessment.

Writing a good question is difficult. It takes practice, time and focus. We must redefine our quality standards so questions can be used more effectively throughout the learning experience. We must also provide our team members with the time, resources, and feedback necessary to yield great questions.

Thanks for reading my monthly curated insights on the Axonify KNOWledge Blog! For more curated content, visit my Flipboard mags, where I post new articles on a variety of workplace learning topics every day.

JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect's Headshot

JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect

JD Dillon became an expert on frontline training and enablement over two decades working in operations and talent development with dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. A respected author and speaker in the workplace learning community, JD also continues to apply his passion for helping frontline employees around the world do their best work every day in his role as Axonify's Chief Learning Architect.

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