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StaffRobert HeinyAnswer a Cascade of Questions - A Learners View of Learning Lecture...

Answer a Cascade of Questions – A Learners View of Learning Lecture Notes


A Learners’ View of Learning: Answer a Cascade of Questions – Lecture Notes

Definition of a Learners’ View: a. The questions a learner tries to answer when facing a problem; answering two primary questions in order to resolve a problem: What do I have to do? and What will it cost me? b. Resolving problems with the least personal cost and the greatest personal gain. c, To adapt, adopt, and manage behavior patterns to survive the moment.

Classic education relies on the assumption that a learners’ view of learning is to adopt, adapt, and use behavior patterns that resolve problems as others resolve them. These patterns provide a base from which learners may resolve problems others have not resolved.

People commonly connect classic education with rigid schooling. In that case, from a learners’ view, learners must resolve problems in ways teachers accept. Teachers of classic education commonly expect superior academic performance for themselves and their students, because they can use enduring resolutions. That performance includes following commonly accepted, although seldom discussed, rules of learning.

To meet expectations, classic education learners use a cascade of questions to “figure out” how to learn what the faculty member writes, says, and in others ways demonstrates. In classic academic courses, each learner uses these demonstrations to critique and elaborate those performances.

Faculty know this process from personal experience. They used classic learning to earn a classic education.

They build their classes, seminars, and scholarly and scientific work on the assumption that classic education students will use the same process.

Learners and faculty accept that anything less than superior learning they attribute to less than a classic education.

A Learners’ View of Classic Learning

It seems reasonable to assume that learners implicitly ask a series of questions when faced with a new task to perform. It’s unclear when using more of these questions leads to more learning.

Most people who have encountered any instruction will recognize a cascade of questions as including those each of us has considered at least once. Each question has a corresponding set of behavioral research findingsthat instructors may answer in order to increase learning efficiency.

Common Sense Questions

When faced with an unknown, learners implicitly ask two common sense questions:

“What do I do now?” and

“What will it cost me (in time, effort, other tangibles and intangibles) to do it?”

Cascade of Questions

Learners then ask a cascade of six primary generic questions (PGQ) to search for answers to the common sense what-to-do and the personal-cost questions.

Each question probes for common relationships across what the learner knowns. Once that’s identified, each learner must identify what to do to solve a problem, such as meet a teacher’s learning criterion.

These six primary generic questions seem a reasonable starting point for understanding a learners’ view of learning, at least until empirical data indicate an alternative starting point.

I’ll delineate one of these questions to indicate that behavioral learning literature provides templates and procedures to guide observations of how people learn. A full guide will elaborate each set in a similar way.

PGQ 1: What must I learn to do, see a color, or squiggle? Say a meaning of a squiggle? Hear a key word or phrase?

The first thing a learner must do to answer this question is figure out what to learn. Direct instructions as in standardized tests provide answers to these questions. In that way, instruction reduces chances of errors (reduce risks of learners’ failure) for learners who know the vocabulary and logic of the instruction.

Does someone tell me what to learn or must I figure it out through trial-and-error?

If the latter, then will it likely be an answer to one of these five generic questions? (Terman and Merrill (1960) said they used these stems to construct and revise problems presented in the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. Here is a sample of learner questions for each stem.)

What is it? Do I say its name or its use/what it does, or do I show you what it does? From free recall or do I use prompts?

What matches this sample? Shall I say (do) what someone else says (does)?

What’s the same? Do I say, circle, point to, or in another way choose from options, as in multiple choice, someone offers? (Instructions: Touch the bird on the page. Say the number from this list that matches the stimulus.)

What’s different? What do I know about these choices that’s the same and that leaves one of the out?

What comes next? What do I know about these choices that’s the same, so I can say what comes next? Or, Do I guess, based on what I already know, if I can figure out how what I know is relevant?

More questions follow to clarify what to learn. These questions seem self explanatory as do follow-up questions each of them triggers. For example:

What is it? triggers another string of questions:

Will I see “it” in the book on my Tablet PC screen or listen to the audio, or find “it” when I use the pen? In other words, Do I see “it,” hear “it,” or feel “it”? Then, when I find “it,” What do I name “it” or how do I describe or demonstrate “its” use.

After addressing to what stimulus to attend, learners ask related questions about What is “it” the same as? What is “it” not like? What is missing from what I see? What comes after what I hear?

Primary Generic Questions 2 – 6 follow the same pattern of cascading triggers: How will I learn it? How do I know I learned it? How do I show I learned it? What will it cost me to learn it? And, So what do I get for learning it?</i>

PGQ 2: How must I learn to do it? For example:

Where do I look, what for and which words and sounds must I hear to learn it?

What moves do I make with my fingers?

Can I choose from options you provide, or must I make my response some other way?

How much guessing must I do without getting punished?

How fast must I do each thing?

When will these presentations repeat? Maybe something better will come along first, so I can wait for the next time before responding?

PGQ 3: What will it cost me to learn it? For example:

How much time will this take me in seconds or minutes?

How much of that time will I waste waiting for the instructor to give the next point?

What other learning will I miss while waiting?

Must I sit still or can I move around?

How do I know I will I gain more than I give?

Who or what controls what I give?

PGQ 4: How will I know I learned it? For example:

Will a smiley face appear or bells ring automatically when I write the correct response?

Will I know tomorrow after someone marks my response?

PGQ 5: How will I show I learned it? For example:

Will I write something, choose something, fill in something missing, copy something?

Who or what says whatever I do means I learned it, know it, understand it, can use it?

PGQ6: So what? What do I get for my effort/cost? Stated another way, why should I learn whatever I decide to learn or what the program or another person says I should learn? For example:

What benefit will I get for my cost, such as for my welfare gain, profit or advantage?

More questions

What primary generic questions would you include from a learner’s view and what learning theories would instructors use to address each question?

Implications for Non-Classic Education

Most learners likely recognize these questions from personal experience. Yet, they have not had exposure to classic education venues.

Those facts lead to more questions that scientists might study empirically.

What accounts for differences in academic achievement by classic and non-clssic learners: for example, personal discipline, educator expectations, exposure to different academic content, different benefits for the same accomplishment?


Heiny, R. (August 20, 2008). Tablet PC Learning Research Agenda 4 – Learner Views. Captured December 8, 2008.

Heiny, R. (October 16, 2008). Learning with Tablet PCs Research Agenda: From Facts to Pragmatics. Paper presented at WIPTE 2008 panel Wednesday, October 16, 2008, Purdue University. Captured December 6, 2008.

Terman, L. & Merrill, M. (1960). Standford-Binet Intelligence Scale: Manual for the Third Revision Form L-M. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Robert Heiny
Robert Heinyhttp://www.robertheiny.com
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 TuxReports.com.

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