January 10, 2017

Maximize Learning With the ABCs of the Socratic Method

Written by Karen Possessky


Instruct by asking questions and not lecturing. Answer questions with a question. At first this sounds like a simple corporate learning strategy. However, as you try to implement the Socratic style, you may find it quite daunting. Following the ABCs will help master the technique that will aid in monumental development of those learners you instruct

First let’s understand why the Socratic method is effective, especially in corporate training and development. Many thoughts swirl around in the mind, each with a different origin and pathway. Some thoughts are programmed like memorizing an organization’s mission statement or core values. Other thoughts originate from observational learning such as shadowing another employee.

Most of employee learning comes from experience and the process of doing a workflow repeatedly. However, it can be challenging for trainers to change later in employee development. In the digital era, corporate trainers should prompt and encourage critical thinking every step of the way to minimize risk and maximize excellence. 

Our thoughts result from complex neurological growth and development throughout our personal life experiences. The most powerful lessons that stick out come from connecting thoughts with own neurologic fuel.

Socratic Teaching

The Socratic teaching style facilitates deep learning and understanding. Your job is to facilitate learning by asking key questions that allow learners to arrive at the discovery point on their own.

To illustrate, imagine a connect-the-dots drawing activity. At first glance, there is no recognition of the picture that the collective dots will represent. Once you start connecting the dots, an image begins to take shape. Halfway through the activity there may be some guesses as to what the dots are forming. Once all the dots are connected, the image is clear. It’s the “a-ha" or "eureka" moment.

Develop learners and help them gain critical thinking tools by facilitating learning with questioning. Here are the ABCs for beginning a Socratic teaching style. 


Assure deep understanding of the concept that you present. Studying and reviewing an already known topic drives greater understanding. It eases the next steps like primer paint on a wall. 


Be in the mind of the learner. What is it that you want them to figure out on their own? Write it down and be clear on what thoughts you want them to derive on their own without lecture.


Create a question or a series of questions to ask. The question(s) should prompt ongoing thought. The brain scans billions of bits of information in search of answers. Once the right bits fuse together, learners will come to the discovery phase on their own.

The Socratic technique is effective, but does not come naturally to many. Practice once a week by taking one concept from your curriculum and applying the ABCs. Depending on commitment to practice, the method becomes more fluid.


Karen Possessky

Karen is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who uses knowledge and methodologies from her life-long profession to navigate the digital marketing world. As founder of revv360, she helps startups, small business owners and thought leaders boost their marketing position.

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