Trail to a Learners’ View (ALV) of Learning

A Learners’ View (ALV) Is Of Choices On The Shortest And Fastest Path To Learning, The Oxygen Of Social Life.

People learn the same way, two dots at a time.

Main Article: FRONT MATTER

Theme: Finding the dots that form a learners’ view (ALV)


Seki-C&WDSTHE TRAIL TO A LEARNERS’ VIEW (ALV) OF LEARNING took many years and uncounted experments to find. What amused me once I found ALV is that it has been in plain sight the whole time. Many of us in science, education, and public service have missed it even when we discussed and used some of its parts and processes routinely. Whether or not we have been wearing intellectual, ideological, or other blinders remains for someone else to clarify. In any case, ALV appears as a proof-of-concept prototype, what C.P. Cavafy termed a First Step, that is a first step for others to use beyond this trail.

Classic Education: A Learners’ View (ALV) of Choices during Teaching and Learning is an effort to share the hope that you will find ALV useful as you clarify choices people make while learning from your teaching.

I came up with the term a learners’ view and its acronym ALV after someone said, Tell me the observable steps people use to learn. What do they do first, second, etc.? I could not answer the question or cite peer reviewed descriptions that answered the question. Nor could a plethora of education and learning specialists world wide answer it when asked during a previous year.

So, I started to outline a systematic response to the “Tell me …” question. In retrospect, recognizing an answer was one of the longest and hardest lesson I have learned. Along the way, two points about learning became apparent, (1) it  is a way of separating individuals from their past and replacing it with a future they share with others, and (2) it is a route to awe, a glimpse of the majesty of life.

Birth of this Site

CLASSIC EDUCATION: A Learners’ View (ALV) of Choices during Teaching and Learning began as an online site in which to gather fragments of answers to the “Tell me…” question. They came from comments I published on the Tux Reports Network, published and unpublished notes from earlier responsibilities, and experimental behavioral and social science research descriptions of learning, education and other human services. I categorized them using a sociological view, for example, that the smallest unit of analysis is a dyad. Looking over it now, this collection features technical ways grounded in scientific research to analyze and manage learning like cooks prepare a soup from scratch and financial analysts examine changes in technical aspects of financial investments. Readers have objected to the lack of also recognizing other views of learning.

The site has grown into notes that describe the disassembled parts of learning, the choices learners make while learning with these parts, and ways people use these parts to accelerate, increase, and deepen learning intentionally. This collection is to education what an owner’s manual is to a car owner: both address crucial parts of the systems they describe. These descriptions make more accurate and precise the vocabulary and logic to use when referring to learning and when instructing learners.

This site features descriptions of those research results in ways more familiar to teachers while retaining most of the accuracy and precision of the vocabulary and procedures of scientists. Thus, it is becoming possible for teachers to read a description of what learners do first, second, etc. while learning, apply it in a lesson plan and during instruction, and then obtain similar results from that lesson as have behavioral and social scientists. At the same time, teachers who do so demonstrate an increased facility with technical and scientific vocabulary of their craft, if not also of their art. This vocabulary adds accuracy and precisions to choices teachers make in lessons they offer.

Learners Make Choices While Learning

These descriptions of learning serve as measurable standards for what is possible to accomplish when planning, instructing, and evaluating lessons. They distinguish how from what people learn: from folklore about learning, teaching and education; and from other behavioral and social science descriptions of learning. Mrs. Hyatt, my first grade teacher showed our reading group, the Blue Birds, these differences in 1942. We mixed up the words house and horse. “You can put a saddle on the /r/ in horse, …”

It took uncounted trial-and-errors through many iterations of this site to recognize the now obvious generalization she implied. Experimental behavioral and social science research results describe observable choices learners make while learning, as Mrs. Hyatt said. The research represented by the acronym ALV was available to her in less refined terms. Choices appear as a common variable across studies. With a few exceptions, theories of learning derived from other studies appear different from addressing choices learners make while learning.

Naming Social Patterns Learners Use While Learning

The recognition of learners choosing to what they attend while learning lead to discussions about the future of education, especially the place of learning in schooling. Later, I introduced a Learning Efficiency Analysis Paradigm (aLEAP) as a map of these choices, but those words immediately resulted in “Huh?” from teachers and stopped conversations.

So, I tried the term a learners’ view (ALV) as a shortcut reference to the paradigm. Both refer to the same results of the same studies over more than a century. Both describe a map of relationships among social patterns learners use while learning. They account for learning in classrooms as well as in other venues, including in homes, workshops, and clinics. They also appear unrecognized during the conduct of and in reports of my previous projects with titles of Field Teaching, Resident-Environment Analysis by Levels (REAL) Scales, Manpower Development, and Neighborhood Learning Centers (NLC) as well as in an outline in 1993-1994 for an on-demand online medical information support project, and a proof of concept of an entrepreneurship project in Montana with people with disabilities.

ALV and aLEAP refer to the same body of literature featured in periodicals such as the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and in reports to funding agencies of project results. Behavioral scientists have described learning as occurring in one step.

However, ALV and aLEAP continued to raise questions of “how do I see and use it” from readers. I realized, after a dozen such questions, that describing learning as choosing ways to connect two dots so they solved a problem opened conversations instead of closing them. Thus was born the common name Two Dots Learning to refer to ALV and aLEAP.

Farber (1971) and Harvey (1993) suggest cautions of relying exclusively on behavioral studies for addressing learning. They reported that children from Traditional American Biblical Families, that is children with symbolic family estates (SFE), learned more than children from other types of families in the same school programs. Farber and Harvey describe structural differences in kinship patterns associated with differences in the amount of learning they earn. Child Advocacy, Field Teaching, NLCs, REAL Scales, etc., as I practiced them with teams of students and volunteers, reduced that difference for learners by providing practices that may today be called virtual SFEs.

A Learners’ View (ALV) of the Path of Choices

In its simplest form, learning is connecting two dots with a line. Each dot is a vocabulary word, term, or part of another repertoire. The line that connects these dots is the shortest process of social interaction the learner chooses. It consists of adjusting known vocabulary and logic by adopting and adjusting unknown vocabulary and logic in ways that solve a problem. Learning is preceded by trial-and-errors and followed by consequences.

The complete sentence describing learning reads:

Learning occurs in one-step through two options (trial-and-errors; correct or not-correct choices) in three parts (before, during and after a social action) at four levels or orders (Physical Sensations, Problem Solving, Social Integration, Meeting Common Priorities/Values) that answers one or more of five generic questions (What is this? What is like this? What is not like this? What comes next? and What is missing?) in ways that benefit learners.

A shorter description of learning does not seem to exist yet in experimental empirical science reports of observable choices people make while learning. Descriptions of this path also appear in creative literature, such as mystery novels, as well as in performing arts and ancient manuscripts. Arguably, Skinner’s (1938) stimulus-response formulation is not only shorter, but as comprehensive. Two differences exist from a learners view (ALV): (1) S-R addresses choices of individuals while ALV refers to choices as social processes with a dyad as the smallest unit of analysis; and (2) studies show that family types account for variations in learning more than S-R programming.

The sentence describing learning outlines social patterns (a social structure) that observers may see, hear, etc. learners use as learning occurs. For observers, these patterns form a code or rules (a structure) learners use while learning. Observers can use that code (these patterns, that structure) to monitor and teachers to manage and measure learning as it occurs.

Deferred Acknowledgment of the ALV Path

It took many years as a business partner to accept the reality and longer still to see implications for education and business of behavioral and social science descriptions of learning. I constantly used what now seem as euphemisms and folklore for learning in academia and business without acknowledging them as such to myself.

Learning seemed self-evident and amorphous. I was learning to use and test formal descriptions of social systems and social processes as described by sociologists. This lead to critiquing schooling as a part of the social institution of education. The idea that learning occurred through systems of social action, and mostly outside of schools held my time and effort.

With students in North Carolina and Tennessee, we used participant-observation strategies and techniques to form ways to apply tools of educators in non-school settings. Bonnie Cook coined this operation as Field Teaching and what we did as Child Advocacy. We added the term Neighborhood Learning Centers (NLC) as a way to refer to the temporary, constantly changing locations of Field Teachers. Within a year, 35 undergraduate and graduate student volunteers, with no academic credit as Field Teachers, each conducted one or more NLCs they created. Cook was a masters’ student in special education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ann Sanford, also a master’s student, was the first Field Teacher, working on a curb outside the house of a young boy expelled from a local public elementary school. Two doctoral students in psychology organized and offered video recordings and play-back of parent-child training in a school in Hillsborough, NC. Robert J. Stachowiak coordinated the team and its data collection. These and dozens of other activities in local communities occurred during the early days of school desegregation with local backlash, the free speech movement on campuses, mass marches on streets for various “rights,” to stop-the-Vietnam-War, to protest the killing of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a strike by university food service workers that drew over 3,000 armed National Guard troops to patrol the UNC campus and more on the nearby Duke University campus. The stereotyped White Glove and Tea era on these southern campuses and of discussions of public schooling was ending, but not their dignity or leadership in academia and its communities.

The term child advocacy captured the attention of the staff scribe of the report for the 1968 White House Conference on Children. She asked me for permission and used it as a descriptor in the report.

Before the White House report was circulated, a UNC faculty member not part of our team heard our term and adopted it, secured funding with it for one of his projects, and quickly published what is perhaps the first book titled Child Advocacy, featuring activities our team judged as putting educators before learners.

Field Teaching and Child Advocacy as our team practiced them in North Carolina permeated the operation of the Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Major in Human Behavior and the graduate program in Community Education at Peabody College, now of Vanderbilt University, that I chaired in the early 1970s. These programs served as background for continuing the same theme of participant-observation research and development projects in New York, Massachusetts, and Montana.

At the same time, some educators and other social welfare workers (more recently referred to as human service workers) adopted the vocabulary of social action, which we also used, as a call for social change, a term then entering into formal sociology and social welfare literature. Using the vocabulary without changing learning rates and other social patterns that increased benefits of learners seemed inadequate. It opened child advocates to charges of well meaning superficiality. But, that was more exciting than accepting learning as observable sets of behavioral and social patterns.

If it’s the former, we reasoned, then someone can manage learning without the learner knowing so. That violates the principle of volunteerism upon which descriptions and analyses of social systems rest. That was dangerous and undemocratic. It could stifle creativity of the learner and result in intellectual and cultural stagnation.

In those days, I approached learning as a cognitive process, an undefinable talent, a mystical unmeasurable something inherent to life. It just happens, so teachers should stay out of the way and let it emerge for each student. It was easy to join the chorus of educators, clergy, and humanists who said and wrote such things.

I accepted that learning happens as in the legend of Archimedes. He noticed that water rose when he entered a bath: Ah ha, Eureka, he said. (I’ve got it – I’ve figured out how to tell if the king’s crown is pure gold)!

It was easy to give in to such sentiments (today people refer to them as “passions”) without recognizing the trial-and-errors of Archimedes and other empirical evidence that came before the “ah ha.” I saw no reason to pay attention to reductionist views of behaviorists. “Adjust the big picture” was the spirit of those times.

At the same time as my research and teaching evolved, I met more behavioral scientists who used research descriptions that began codifying how people learn. I also worked with people who used these codes to increase learning promptly and dramatically in ways I hadn’t known anyone could do without acting in authoritarian ways. I hadn’t considered technical descriptions of how people can choose whether a social interaction will have a positive or a negative result by the way a lesson is constructed and offered.

Vocabulary for Describing Learning and Classic Education

The vocabulary of behavioral scientists did not include words such as reasoning, thinking, cognition, sentiment, needs, social change, meaning, understanding, and belief. They considered these as speculations and theories about learning. Instead, they began identifying and addressing implications of learners’ codes for their interests in public policies independent from social codes by which social scientists analyzed and applied their findings to social actions and public policies.

Behavioral views of learning and social life were foreign to me. I didn’t even understand the jokes of behaviorists. It was embarrassing. And most behaviorists did not appear to understand the use of a sociological view of learning and teaching or of how it relates to their agendas. But, used our vocabulary to make their programs appear more current in proposals for funding. That was awkward.

So, I learned to do what they do. As a social analyst, I assumed a participant-observer role with them in order to learn what and how behaviorists practice their discipline. To my surprise, what they do is rational, practical, and requires accuracy and precision in much the same way as learning to play the violin in a symphony. (Yes, I’ve done both.)


Looking back, I met and worked with many people with a classic education befitting the historic educated person. They were men and women who practiced wisdom and virtue in the classic sense, as well as behaviorism (without that label, some self-taught) even when professing another point of view. They were at the top of their fields in and out of academia. The patterns they used to earn that education were consistent with both behavioral descriptions of learning and with learning as social processes.

The hardest part of behaviorism, of addressing learning as social processes, and of ALV remains constantly choosing something to count and then describing, analyzing, and reporting those observations by referring only to what and how the counting occurred.

That was my entry into techniques and strategies of technical observations of people as they learn. Using codes learners use has permitted observations and analyses of why some people learn while others do not. Learning increased from lessons after adding these techniques to lesson plans and instruction. In turn, these analyses increased, measured, and forecasted learning, mostly out of schools. Failure of someone to learn usually resulted from incomplete instruction, not from other reasons, regardless of whether people were labeled handicapped, culturally different, disabled, gifted, talented, and given other names that set them outside of normal expectations.

As a teacher, that’s hard to admit. As a social scientist who practiced with both structural-functional and symbolic interactionist views, behavioral research data describing learning fit with them easily.

Recognition happened slowly that behavioral and social science views are different parts of the same process of learning, but described with different vocabulary for the same social actions. aLEAP (also called a learners’ view, ALV, and Two Dot Learning, TDL) illustrates this union. The Instruction Cube (TIC) illustrates ways to use aLEAP in order to demonstrate ways that learning contributes to social continuity and change.

As a former partner in an electronics technology business, Classic Education: A Learners’ View (ALV) of Choices during Teaching and Learning indicates ways that entrepreneurs can offer to increase learning promptly and dramatically in and out of schools with and without tablets, smart phones, and other advancing electronic communication tools still to be released.

It took longer yet to realize that social descriptions of learning provided a learners’ view of problems they solved. From this view, learning does not occur without certain elements of learning in a lesson, much as listings of nutritional elements on labels of foods in United States grocery stores describe their ingredients.

Your Turn

You may use this site as a learning tool, as a guide for lessons, and as a reminder to consider that learners bring their point of view to your lessons. You don’t need to reject your other beliefs about learning. Do set them aside until you are equally competent with practices used by learners while learning. Then, compare results to decide whether or not to go back to your earlier practices while teaching.

Using this process, you can make informed choices about the value for learners when you use ALV in lessons and while discussing education. Perhaps you too will see that changes in behavior and social patterns serve as a fundamental observable base for participating in, contributing to, and analyzing civilizations as we know them and try to make ours better for everyone.

At the same time, please keep these efforts in perspective. When it comes to learning, it’s a learners’, not an educators’ world. Changes in rates, amounts, and depth of learning rely on educators, through whatever names of their social roles, matching their choices of action with choices made by learners. According to social scientists, the extent of matches is problematic, demonstrated by a distribution of results in a so called normal (Gaussian) curve.

Please let me know of your progress to change this distribution to everyone learning all lessons all of the time. I want to learn how you are changing that curve in favor of learners in your venue.

As you begin with Classic Education: A Learners’ View (ALV) …, please take time to review Who Cares and Other Questions about Classic Education: A Learners’ View (ALV)?. And, take four (4) minutes to watch the popular speaker Steven Johnson illustrate Where Good Ideas Come From; it independently captures the way this site occurred. Together, “Who cares…?” and the video feature questions behavioral and social scientists are frequently asked about learning, education, invention, and innovation.

Make your questions known, if you don’t find responses to them on this site. We look forward to you telling us your descriptions of how people learn.

Robert W. Heiny, Ph.D.
Retired Professor, Former Business Partner, Blogger


  1. Cavafy, C.P. ( ). First Steps. (Captured May 30, 2015 at 3:45 P.M. MST)
  2. Skinner, B.F. (1938). The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis. Cambridge, Massachusetts: B.F. Skinner Foundation.

Related Reading

  1. A Learners’ View (ALV)
  2. A Completed Teacher (ACT)
  3. Classic Education: A Learners’ View (ALV) of Choices… Book Jacket Blurb
  4. Development of Classic Education: A Learners’ View (ALV) of Choices…
  5. Farber, B. (1971). Kinship and Class: A Midwestern Study. NY: Basic Books.
  6. Harvey, D. (1993). Potter Addition: Poverty, Family, and Kinship in a Heartland Community. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.
  7. Heiny, R., & Stachowiak, R. J. Field Teaching.
  8. Living in a Learners World
  9. Preface to Classic Education: A Learners’ View (ALV) of Choices during Learning and Teaching
  10. Two Dot Learning (TDL)

Related Resources

  1. Where Good Ideas Come From Video

Revised April 20, 2010; January 12, 2011; June, 2013. At one time, this trail, unnamed, was the focus of the Preface for Classic Education: A Learners’ View (ASeptember 10LV) of Choices during Teaching and Learning. The revised Preface addresses why I search for ALV.

Last Updated: June 6, 2015.