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What Is the Socratic Method? Definition & Examples

What Is the Socratic Method? Definition & Examples
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  • 0:01 A Different Kind of Class
  • 0:55 Socratic Conversations
  • 3:03 Examples of the…
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

This lesson discusses a style of teaching and learning known as the Socratic method. You'll consider what makes this approach effective and why it can sometimes be uncomfortable.

A Different Kind of Class

Have you ever sat through a lecture-style class where you listened to the information provided by a teacher but found yourself struggling to learn it? Perhaps there were just too many facts to absorb or you were simply bored by it and not motivated to learn.

What if instead you were in a class where you knew your teacher might call on you and ask you questions about your understanding of the topic? You would be consulted about your opinion and given a chance to provide input into the discussion - and ask probing questions of the teacher, too. What if you and the teacher had a lengthy conversation about the subject?

Not so boring, but maybe uncomfortable at times, right? In this lesson, we'll look at how this second type of classroom experience relates to the Socratic method, a style of inquiry in philosophy and education.

Socratic Conversations

Lectures have their place in the world of education. We've all been in classes where the teacher did most of the talking. Sometimes this is a helpful way of taking in the information. Even watching video lessons is a little like listening to a lecture. The conversation is a one-way street, where you're listening and learning, and until you take the quiz, you don't necessarily get a chance to chime in with your own thoughts and knowledge.

The Socratic method is a different style of education than a lecture. This approach involves a conversation in which a student is asked to question their assumptions. It is a forum for open-ended inquiry, one in which both student and teacher can use probing questions to develop a deeper understanding of the topic.

Although it's unknown who first used this approach in history, the method is named for Socrates, an ancient Greek philosopher who was known for these types of conversations. Think of the Socratic method as mainly back and forth between a teacher, like Socrates, and a student. These types of conversations do not necessarily find all of the answers, but they raise new questions for consideration.

The Socratic method has sometimes been portrayed in movies or by particular teachers as an intimidating experience, where a teacher tries to put down the student's knowledge. However, the modern application of the method is mainly about gaining deeper understanding of a topic and not about condemning a student. The goal is greater knowledge, not just winning an argument or showing yourself to be superior.

If you imagine yourself back in that classroom listening to the lecture, you're focused on taking in what the teacher tells you is the truth. On the other hand, when you engage with a teacher using the Socratic method, you use your critical thinking skills to question their stance and your own stance, to consider many different ways of looking at a topic.

Example of the Socratic Method

For instance, let's say that the topic of conversation is about what it means to love another person. The teacher might ask you how you define love between two people. You might answer something like this: 'Love is a combination of feelings you have and actions you take to demonstrate your appreciation that another person exists.'

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