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The Power of Generating Your Own Answers

The Power of Generating Your Own Answers

Generating your own answers to questions is much more powerful than selecting an answer from a list. It engages your brain differently.

Marketers know exactly how to take over our brains. You can see this effect anytime you hear a jingle and finish it in your head. You might hear the Red Robin jingle, just the words red and robin sung in a familiar way, but a lot of people mentally add the “Yum” that was dropped from the jingle a good while ago. The same goes for the McDonald’s jingle. It started out as pa-da-pa-pah-dah, I’m lovin’ it. But once they got that jingle in everyone’s head, they dropped the words at the end.  I bet your brain still sings “I’m loving it” at the end of the jingle, though. That’s pretty amazing marketing. 

Generating our own answers to things sticks with us longer than choosing an answer from a list of options. The marketing teams of both of those restaurants know this. Every time people generate the missing words themselves, they strengthen the connection in their brains. 

The act of creating our own answer sticks on our brains far longer than choosing one. Generation is a form of retrieval. The more we retrieve information, the more ingrained it becomes in our memory.  

Take Advantage of How the Brain Works

There are many ways to use this in your course. Fill-in-the-blank responses are one that comes to mind easily. The simple fill-in-the-blank where there is a correct response is one way to do it. Another is to ask more of an open-ended question. For example, if you just reviewed a case study, you can ask students to write down three lessons they learned from the study. 

Have students generate their own answers whenever possible. You can do this by asking questions in your material and asking students to pause and write their answers. You can then continue with the lesson, sharing what you wrote and giving students instructions on what to do with their information. Giving the students a moment to pause and write before giving them your response allows them to generate answers that are completely their own. They haven’t been influenced by your example. Once they hear your response, they can compare it to their own which makes even more connections and they are able to hold on to the content even longer.  

Need More Examples?

Another way you can use generation is to let students influence each other. For example, in a course on blogging, you could ask students to brainstorm ten how-to ideas they could write about. When you share your ten, encourage your students to add any new ideas generated that may have popped up from the sharing. Having a few students share can help get idea generation flowing throughout the live group.

In another example, you could ask students to jot down the three major points you just covered in the previous lesson without looking back. This forces the student to recall the information. The more you recall information, the more important your brain thinks that information is and it holds on to it longer.  When you review the three major points in the next part of the lesson, students can see where they are weak and go back to review as needed. 

When Does Generating Your Own Answers Work Best?

Generating your own answers works well at almost any point in the material. Generation is a powerful learning tool. The more you use it in your course, the better students will get at remembering information. If you use it at least twice early in the course, students will come to expect more questions like it. And they will study in a way that prepares them for generation questions. 

Some of these ideas work well in an asynchronous course, a self-paced course, and some may work better in a synchronous course, a paced course. But you can always work in simple ways for students to generate their own answers. The nice part is that you don’t have to check their work. You provide the questions, give them time to generate responses, and then provide your expected response, and they edit themselves. 

The key point I want you to get from this post is that generating our own answers deepens the learning much more than selecting an answer from a list. Use that. 

Your turn

I want you to think about your course. If you already have a course and have a multiple-choice question in it, re-work it so that students generate their own answer rather than choosing one of your options. If you don’t yet have a course developed, think about a topic you are going to cover and write three potential questions that you could use to help students generate their own answers from the learning. 

Community Connection

Share one open-ended question in the comments of the episode video. Be sure to give us context for the question. That will help us give the right feedback. Please read and respond to other comments as you see a need. I look forward to reading your responses.

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