The Keys to Understanding

The Keys to Understanding

Trying to make sense of something new requires hard work. Whether you are a graduate entering the working world or an established employee needing to understand a new system, you’ll find that you need to upskill yourself on how to be curious. What is acceptable curious behaviour in your organisation? What are great questions to ask, that will unlock your understanding?

I’m so happy to tell you about The Keys to Understanding, designed by a thought-leader ahead of her time, Professor Sylvia Downs. It was Downs and her ground-breaking work about adult learning, that really piqued my curiosity. Engaging with Downs’ work taught me that there is so much more to adult learning than the rote learning I had experienced throughout school and university. She was the first person to open my mind to the dynamic world of adult learning. It was through her work that I began to feel, quite possibly for the first time in my life, validated as an adult learner.

One of the learning tools she designed, called The Keys to Understanding, is a set of questions you can ask in any learning situation that will help you discover, explore, make sense, and understand.

It literally unlocks your understanding, hence the “keys”. And here are the questions. Feel free to use them for any application of your workplace learning!

Key 1 – Purpose:

Thinking of the PURPOSES of what needs to be understood. Included in this key is also a definition and/or description of what needs to be understood.

• What is the purpose of?
• Why is this important?

Key 2 – Comparison:
COMPARING AND CONTRASTING with other experiences to identify similarities and differences.
• How is … different from and similar to …?
• What are the differences and similarities between…&..?

Key 3 – Viewpoints:
Imagining things from other directions, or others’ VIEWPOINTS. That is, there must be a “third party”.
• How do you think this would look to the users of the system?
• What do you think the needs of the X department are?

Key 4 – Problems:
Thinking of all the PROBLEMS associated with what needs to be understood. What could go wrong?
• What could go wrong with this plan?
• What are the difficult aspects of this task?

Key 5 – Checks:
Thinking of ways to CHECK your ideas, by thinking about the STANDARDS or how results will be MEASURED.
• How will I know when I am doing this right?
• What are the performance standards for this task?

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