NESI Conversation 12: Learning According to Learners



Main Page: Narratives about a Learners’ View (ALV)Dialogues

Status: First Draft

Last Edited: August 1, 2018

ALV (A LEARNERS’ VIEW) DIALOGUES are a series of fictionalized interviews and conversations about real world education. Dialogues are part of the ALV inspired NEW ERA SCHOOL INITIATIVE (NESI).

This initiative features a learners’ view of learning. This view uses a sociological rather than a psychological lens to focus on the social interaction among teachers and learners at the moment when learning occurs during instruction of lessons. This focus consists of descriptions from an analysis of the content of published technical and scientific research results of studies of teaching and learning by experimental behavioral and social scientists.

These studies account for real world principles of learning which describe how ALV in lessons will likely accelerate, increase, and deepen (AID) learning with and without advancing electronic communication devices in PreK12 schools.

The TuxReports interviewer in this series replaced the Tablet PC Education interviewer in previous conversations. The replacement occurred when Table PC Education merged with Tux Reports Network.

TuxReports: We welcome Donna Pahl (Wilkinson) back to tell us what learning is according to learners. Ms. Pahl uses this view while instructing students in her classes. It’s been several years since we last talked. Let’s get right to it. Tell us what learning is. Don’t learners and everyone else see learning in the same way? 

Pahl: Thank you for inviting me back. Before I address learning, let me address teaching by saying that the immediacy of teachers’ practical classroom tasks requires their full attention to the immediacy of their experiences.

For most teachers, it is an exception for them to include discussions of theories about teaching and learning in their daily routines.

What I say is intended to simplify those tasks and thereby make their efforts more likely to accelerate, increase, and deepen (AID) learning promptly and sometimes dramatically.

I’ll give an answer to the question, ‘How do people learn? What do they do first, second, etc.

My answer gives teachers a way to address the learning of instructed lessons as learners view these lessons.

This answer is a valid and reliable scientific statement to the extent that the process used to obtain and describe it can be replicated and tested by others.

TuxReports: Why is it important to say that you are giving a scientific answer to the question of how people learn? You’re a teacher. Teachers don’t usually discuss the scientific process as a basis for their descriptions of what they do.  

Pahl: Yes, I’m a teacher. Our daily practical tasks hold us to our immediate experiences.

My background in the science of experimental behavioral and social science research studies of learning and teaching allows me to apply what others have done in order to show my students how to learn during my instruction of lessons.

TuxReports: Are you intending to suggest that teachers should have a background in experimental behavioral and sociological research studies? Let’s address that question later. 

Pahl: Experimental research studies provide the most precise and reliable (consistent) descriptions of learning and teaching.

Learning according to learners unifies those studies through commonalities which may be stated as essentials. These essentials simplify without dumbing down descriptions of the social interaction between teachers and learners during instruction of lessons that learners learn.

TuxReports: I’ve got your point for now. You are carefully qualifying what you say, so as not to overgeneralize. I appreciate that. Please continue. 

I’ll start my answer to the ‘How people learn’ question with a quick overview of the essentials of learning according to learners. A subtitle for these essentials might be ‘A Foundation for Society’.

Describing the essentials of learning according to learners identifies how learners learn.

That is, what they do first, second, etc. while learning lessons teachers instruct.

Learners learn (1) in one step (2) by making a choice from among two options (3) in three stages, (4) at four levels to solve one or more (5) of five generic problems (sometimes stated as questions).

Stated another way, I will use vocabulary and logic based in experimental science to describe how learners learn whenever learners learn lessons.

This description gives teachers a technical way to instruct lessons that all learners learn, and in that way alter the life chances of students and the structure of society.

TuxReports: That’s an intriguing introduction. It sets up a discussion. The  subtitle and its implications for life chances and social structure is a surprising reach. Do you care to say more about it now?

Pahl: Yes. Learning According to Learners is an empirical foundation for describing an aspect of the structure of society. It enters a space in sociology that lacks a comprehensive or single paradigm empirical link between teaching, learning, life-chances, and the structure of society.

TuxReports: That sounds like a separate discussion at another time. 

Pahl: I agree. Let’s address it when we talk about implications of learning according to learners for observing, managing, and measuring society.

TuxReports: Let’s start at the beginning again. What is learning according to learners? 

Learning According to Learners is a description of commonalities across more than a century of experimental research studies of learning and teaching. More precisely, it describes the least number of commonalities that account for learning during teaching.

TuxReports: Are you talking about the science of learning or something else?

I’m describing the results of a systematic analysis of over a century of experimental research study reports conducted by behavioral and social scientists. Scientists conducted their experiments in order to describe parts, processes, and principles of how human behavior and social systems work.

Learning according to learners describes principles of social interaction patterns that occur while learners learn lessons instructed by teachers.

TuxReports: What happened to cognition, psycholinguistics, higher order learning, left-right brain functions, cooperative learning and other ways teachers and psychologists talk about learning? I expected to hear you say something about those ideas.

Pahl: With you’re help, I will try to distinguish with respect my descriptions of empirical facts of learning from theories and opinions such as the ones you mentioned.

Vocabulary that describes learning according to learners refers to common scientific operations that teachers also use to observe, manage, and measure when learners connect those two dots during instruction.

In my experience, educators with a systematic reading and practical background with experimental behavioral or sociological research feel less alienated from descriptions such as the one I just offered.

I do not assume that readers have a working familiarity with details of the research to which I refer.

There will be nothing mystical, theoretical, or unusual about my descriptions of learning or  of how this view accounts in an unknown amount for the social structure in which we live.

TuxReports: I expect that your descriptions will remind us of the research to which you refer.

Pahl: Stated directly, learning according to learners is connecting two dots to solve a problem in a way acceptable to other people.

That’s simple to state, but sometimes difficult for teachers to apply consistently during instruction.

Learning to connect two dots occurs in one step as learners make choices of which social action patterns to take from among 15 sets of optional patterns I described in the introduction.

Learning instructed lessons occurs when teachers’ choices during instruction match learners’ choices. Learners use a predictable set of choices when they learn lessons. Teachers who match those choices during instruction increase the probability that learners will learn lessons.

Learning in this sense occurs as social action patterns that interact (match) with teachers’ social action patterns during instruction of lessons.

Whenever learners learn an instructed lesson, learning occurs as I just described.

TuxReports: There’s a lot to consider in those few sentences. Let’s unpack it. Why do you limit our discussion to descriptions of experimental behavioral and social science research reports? 

Pahl: Experiments are the core process of scientific studies, including of learning and teaching. From the view of the scientists to which I refer, it is reasonable to consider lessons of teachers as approximations of scientific experiments.

TuxReports: Teachers’ lessons are approximations of scientific experiments? Do we need to address that now, or can we address that later? 

Pahl: Yes, that’s what I meant to say. Let’s address it later.

What I will do next is show you how learners address learning lessons that teachers instruct. I’ll be the teacher instructing a lesson. You’ll be the learner.

We will assume that you do not know how to do as I tell you to do.

This way you can participate in the lesson as learners do. Teachers call what you will do Learning.

Participating as a learner is different from us talking about learning.

TuxReports: Well, this is different from our previous times together. OK. Let’s give your way a try.

Pahl: (She takes a pen out of a case, holding and moving it in front of the interviewer until the interviewer’s eyes follow it.)

Say (while looking at the interviewer’s eyes), This is a pen. Say it.

TuxReports: This is a pen.

Pahl: We have completed the Primary Generic Lesson Learning Process as learners view learning a lesson that teachers instruct.

This process consists of a learner and a teacher matching a social action to a criterion for an academic performance that is said, shown, or in other ways indicated by the teacher.

From the view of learners, learning is matching choices of teachers.

That’s all learning is. It’s that simple.

TuxReports: As you said earlier, there is nothing mystical, theoretical, or unusual about learning in that exercise.

I just did what you said to do.

What if I did not do as you said. What would you have done?

Pahl: You made a choice voluntarily to do as I said to do.

If you had chosen not to do as I said, there would have been consequences.

For now, we would not have a common referent for addressing learning as do learners.

If we are together so far, I’ll summarize over a century of choices that experimental behavioral and social scientists have reported and that you likely made to do what I told you to do.

TuxReports: Proceed. Are these scientists mind readers?

Pahl: They are empiricists in the classic sense of the word. In short, you and I performed the social roles of instructor and learner during a lesson.

We matched choices of social interactions to take while you learned to perform your part of the lesson.

This matching occurred in the same way teachers as instructors show and tell learners how to sing a song in specific ways according to the lines and dots on a music score.

From this view, learning is problem solving.

It is selecting and adding specific choices to the learners’ performance repertoire to solve problems.

The problem for the lesson we shared was to answer the generic question ‘What is it?’

I can vary the instruction of that lesson to calculate the likelihood that you learned the name of the pen in our lesson.

In each lesson, I teach you how to learn to solve one or more of the five generic problems. These scientists have studied a range of instruction styles. The more precise I can make the instruction, the more likely you will learn it.

The ‘What is it?’ question is the most basic and simplest of the five generic problems.

These five problems appear to represent fundamental questions that scientists as well as lay people address daily.

Stated as a generalization, learning according to learners is making choices that clarify which social actions for learners to use to solve which problems.

A more general way of saying the same thing is that learning is making the fewest number and kinds of choices of social actions to use and under which conditions to solve one or more of the five generic problems.

This generalization or proposition leads to the question, Which choices do learners likely make while learning?

TuxReports: Whoa! I was with you when I said ‘This is a pen.’ But you lost me when you talked about lessons, teachers as instructors, and choices as social actions.

I recognized your words, and your example with the singing teacher, but I cannot put them together again as you did.

Pahl:  What is it you don’t follow? Or is it that you don’t agree with what I said?

TuxReports: I still expected you to talk about learning in ways I could still use ideas of cognition, psycholinguistics, higher order learning, left-right brain functions, cooperative learning. 

Pahl: You used the correct preposition when you said people talk about learning with those words.

I agree that teachers and others use such vocabulary and related logic as reasons for what they see, hear, and do in their professional lives. They refer to and try to adapt into lessons what such theories speculate that people do to learn.

Psychologists and teachers who use their theories use a monad as the smallest unit of analysis when considering an individual or even two or more individuals with someone teaching someone else something.

However, learning according to learners consists of descriptions of how learners learn. They use a sociology lens to describe how people learn.

The theories you mentioned use a lens on a monad or individual. They relate the substance and process of learning with theories based on descriptions of what people do.

These two views use a different vocabulary and logic.

This difference occurs through two shifts in the rules used to address learning. These changes constitute a paradigm shift. A paradigm is a set of rules for viewing phenomena.

One is to shift from considering theories and discussions about learning to descriptions of how teaching and learning occur. The second shift is from considering behavior of individuals to describing social roles that occur during the social interaction of instructing lessons learners learn.

Given these shifts, learning according to learners addresses teaching and learning as social interactions. The smallest unit of analysis in this paradigm is a dyad.

TuxReports: You lost me again somewhere in the changes of rules.

Pahl: The important part of the shift is that learning according to learners considers a dyad as the smallest unit of analysis. Learning is not reducible to individual people or to anything less than the interaction between two somethings that form the dyad.

Sociologists use the dyad as their smallest unit of analysis. These dyads are held together by social interaction sometimes referred to as social action.

TuxReports: So you’re saying that learning according to learners uses a sociological view rather than a psychological, neurological, or another view.

This view refers to the least number and kinds of descriptions of what experimental behavioral and social scientists reported in common over more than a century.

Further, that with this view, you can account for learning by observing social interaction.

By omission, you do not seem to be saying anything about the value or validity of views of learning as personal behavior, cognition, brain function, etc.

Pahl: Yes. That’s a good review of what I’ve said so far.

TuxReports: Good, because our time is up for this episode. I want to continue our conversation of ‘learning according to learners’ in our next episode. Thank you readers for joining us. We look forward to your return also. 


  1. A Learners’ View of Learning (ALV)
  2. Introducing Technical-Scientific Literacy of Education (TSLE)
  3. Language of Learning (LANOL)
  4. Mead, G. (2010). Scientific Method and Individual Thinker. In J. Dewey, … (Captured August 2, 2018 at 5:14P MST).
  5. New Era School Initiative (NESI) Teachers’ Motto
  6. Paradigm
  7. Principles of Learning
  8. Technical-Scientific Literacy of Teachers (TSLE)
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Robert Heiny
Robert W. Heiny, Ph.D. is a retired professor, social scientist, and business partner with previous academic appointments as a public school classroom teacher, senior faculty, or senior research member, and administrator. Appointments included at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Peabody College and the Kennedy Center now of Vanderbilt University; and Brandeis University. Dr. Heiny also served as Director of the Montana Center on Disabilities. His peer reviewed contributions to education include publication in The Encyclopedia of Education (1971), and in professional journals and conferences. He served s an expert reviewer of proposals to USOE, and on a team that wrote plans for 12 state-wide and multistate special education and preschools programs. He currently writes user guides for educators and learners as well as columns for