Asking Review Questions

Asking Review Questions

by Jennie Ruby, CTT, COTP

Over and over, as we teach our ICCOTP Certified Online Training Professional course on how to teach online, I see students use our techniques correctly—but on the wrong topics. For example, we teach a very specific technique—the overhead question. The purpose of the overhead question is to review material you have already delivered or covered in the class. The purpose is two-fold: you are evaluatingwhether the students learned what you presented to them; and you are encouraging them to do an extremely important part of the learning process: to apply effort in trying to remember the content or skills they just learned. 

Let me emphasize that last statement. The two purposes of asking an overhead question—where you ask a question first (so that all of the students are trying to think of the answer), and then call on one student to answer it—are these:

~ To evaluate whether your students are retaining the content you have delivered (to see if you need to teach it again)

~ To ask your students to apply the effort to remember it

The neuroscience of learning tells us that the moment of learning a concept or a new skill is not when we first hear or receive it. The moment of learning begins when we try to recall it. Learning begins when we ask our brain to remember. It’s as if only at that moment does our brain tag that bit of knowledge or that new skill as something to move into long-term memory. Something to actually LEARN.

Over and over, I see our COTPs-in-training ask the perfectly structured question: ask a clear question; then call on one student to answer it. But those up-and-coming COTPs regularly fail at using the overhead question to do the two things enumerated above. Do you remember what the two purposes of the overhead question are? Look away from this screen and see if you remember. I’ll wait.

Did you do it? Did you try to remember? If not, please give it a try now. Look away, and see if you remember the two purposes of the overhead question.

That’s right: To evaluate learning and To ask the learner to go to the effort of trying to remember it

Here’s a memory aid: “Evaluation and Effort make it Easy to learn.”

~ Evaluation

~ Effort

So how are my COTP students failing at these two purposes? They are using their questions to their students for the purpose of engagement only. Wait. Not another E word! Yes, another E word. And one that is a constant mantra in the field of training. “We must engage our students.” “We must create eLearning that is engaging.” “How can we engage our students in learning?” On and on. 

Yes, engagement is necessary. But it is only the first step in the learning process for our students. Sure, they have to be awake, paying attention, and even interested in and thinking about the topic of the lesson. That is engagement. 

But without the other two E-words, learning may not occur. And it almost certainly won’t “stick.”

Make sure you are asking review questions—not just engagement questions to introduce a topic and get learners thinking about it—but review questions about what you have already covered. You'll be able to evaluate whether students are learning (you might need to teach the lesson again!). And most importantly, so that you are giving your students the opportunity to do what it takes to truly learn something: to apply effort. 


Jennie Ruby, CTT, COTP, is a veteran eLearning developer, trainer, and author. Jennie has an M.A. from George Washington University and is a Certified Technical Trainer and Certified Online Training Professional. She teaches both classroom and online courses, and has authored courseware, published training books, and developed content for countless eLearning projects. She is also a publishing professional with more than 30 years of experience in writing, editing, print publishing, and eLearning.

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