To Learn - Andy Caruso - ebook

To Learn ebook

Andy Caruso



Do you teach? Do you manage? Do you inspire? Do you sell? If the answer is yes to any of these or similar duties, then at least part of your job description or self-chosen pathway will likely include encouraging learning by your students, workers, followers, customers. This book can serve as a resource guide, providing you insight into the processes and barriers involved when those in your charge attempt to improve their understanding. This in turn can provide you with tools for improving your own learning, the key to growth and improvement in your relationships with those you have come to guide. Not only will you gain empathy for those you lead, you will also become a better learner. Is there an answer to the question, "Why are we here?" We think so. Our answer is, "To Learn." It is what we do, likely beginning in the womb. We never break the habit until death, or, perhaps death occurs when we break the habit. To Learn aims multiple lenses at learning, each returning an image (a partial representation/ reflection) of the complex human endeavor that represents our reason for being here.

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To Learn


From Richard

Dedicated to my family, Rosemary, Ronald, Alyse, Malia & Karyn, plus, Cyrus, Maya and Asha. Thanks for serving as my learning laboratory and thanks for your love. [Ron–thanks for the edits. They limited our embarrassment.]

Acknowledgments to Vic Schmidt, the Bobs–Lepper and Samples, the Freds Fox and Achberger, Jake Nice, the Cheryls–Charles and Lemke, Dave Kennedy, Dennis Kuhn and all the learners–thanks. And Andy.

From Andy

Acknowledgments to my wife of over 50 years you have great endurance, thank you. In addition I am a composite of family (parents, relatives, children, grandchildren), friends, teachers, mentors, students, employers, employees, fellow authors and even spiritual and civic associations leaders and members; to list all or choose a few would be near impossible so my acknowledgment is to all, while the vast majority shared positive notions, I think I even learned a bit from those who presented a model that is one that I hope to never follow. Thank you to all, and I hope to continue to learn until the end. My co-author’s friendship extends over 55 years; you are bright, talented, compassionate and many more wonderful adjectives apply, thank you!

My acknowledgments are my dedication, to all of you many thanks.




British Library Cataloguing in Publication DataA catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

To Learn1st edition 2017Maidenhead: Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd., 2017

All rights reserved, especially the right to copy and distribute, including the translation rights. No part of this work may be reproduced—including by photocopy, microfilm or any other means—processed, stored electronically, copied or distributed in any form whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher.

© 2017 by Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd.Aachen, Auckland, Beirut, Budapest, Cairo, Cape Town, Dubai, Hägendorf,Indianapolis, Maidenhead, Singapore, Sydney, Tehran, Vienna

Member of the World Sport Publishers’ Association (WSPA)www.w-s-p-a.orgISBN: 978-1-78255-438-7E-Mail: [email protected]






Reflecting On “So What?!”

Goals: We Need Them All


Goals vs Opportunities

Goals: Consider Reading


Overview of Learning Theory

Humanistic Psychology






Sensory Learning

Kinesthetic and Sensory Learning



Ten Thousand Hours


Dark Matter, Dark Energy

Organizing Relevance: Structure from Chaos


Attention Span vs Interest Span


Trial and Error

Deliberate Practice

What Is the Mind?



Contextual Interference

Transfer of Learning

Serendipity: Is It Really An Accident?


Intrinsic or Extrinsic?


Creativity—Where Did It Go?



Peerness: A Context for Learning

Team Building



Individuality: Focus on the Learner


Diversity: It Makes a Difference


The Laserwriter™ Printer and Learner Ownership

Tech/Teacher Symbiosis

The Impossible Has Become the Necessary

The Flipped Classroom


Beginning Guide

Nine General Principles to Share With Learners

Direct Instruction vs Discovery Learning


Inquiry Method

Discrepant Events and Cognitive Dissonance

Instructional Level


Spiral vs Unit and Block Instruction

Propaganda Techniques: Is This Anti-Learning?


A Measure of the Quality of an Assignment

Expert: Yes or No?

Authentic Real-World Contexts

Project Based Learning—An Example




If you opened these pages to—as the title implies—learn, then our first goal has been met: to entice learners into a dialogue about the experience that each human participates in from the moment they are born. You are your own experiment applied to the actions, interactions, barriers, and opportunities presented to you in your lifelong journey toward understanding why you are here. This text includes our descriptions of what we think we know (or can guess) about what it means to learn and about the conditions that accompany each of our attempts to do so.

You may also have been attracted by the title due to your particular role as a purveyor of learning. That role is often called teacher, but we will not limit the applications herein to academic settings. By assisting others to improve, understand, and succeed you don the mantle of teacher whether you are the chief custodian of a hospital or the CEO of a corporation. This is for the sales manager, teacher, human resources director, politician, road foreman, and everyone else who disseminates information or assumes the role of guide, helping others extend their capabilities. The work here is for the effective use of principles of learning and their application within an empowering framework. We find it hard to think of anyone who does not disseminate information!

In this day and age, very few people operate in isolation. That is why the monitoring, organization, and dissemination of information—as well as management of the resultant interactions—is a necessity at work, at home, on the court, or on the pitch. And we will not be limited to the conveyance of information only. Information can be conveyed by you to a colleague, but the conversion of information to knowledge is incumbent on that colleague. When that process takes place the colleague becomes the learner, and while your task has been to disseminate information, the all-important work of doing the conversion is the very human work of learning. We will also address the development of skills, attitudes, and personal motivations as we attempt to learn. Hopefully when you disseminate information you too are a learner.


While many have attempted to apply lessons gleaned from business and industrial enterprise to classroom learning, until recently few have wandered the reverse path, that of overlaying research from academia—prekindergarten through college—to the halls of commerce. This is understandable, as goals in private sector business environments differ significantly from those of our public education system. Each business, corporation, and other private organization, as well as public service organization or political governing agency usually has a vision and mission accompanied by goals, and strategies which primarily target improvement of that organization’s outputs. Measures of success for these entities are often couched in terms of the organization’s bottom line, typically represented by numbers on a spreadsheet and sometimes reported to stockholders. Results of such considerations are seldom a tug-of-war between public interest and income enhancement; the latter is usually the clear choice of private sector interests. Schools, by contrast, should have as their bottom line the improvement of their clients’ (i.e., their students’) abilities to learn. However, some corporate entities are beginning to acknowledge that attention to empowerment within the organization can contribute, even if secondarily, to the organization’s baser purposes. Add to that the realization by eager employees that their value to their employer increases if they add to their own knowledge base and thereby improve their innovative and production capabilities, and there is a potential win-win situation if both entities support and pursue enhanced learning (i.e., they each strive to learn). Many businesses do in fact encourage and even pay to assist those employees willing to learn.

Historical attempts to implement non-educational strategies as substitutes for improved teaching practices and learner achievement have proven to be, at best, distractions from the real business of education. The business-solutions-for-schools trend arguably started with total quality management (TQM), based on Edwards Deming’s work in Japan in the 1950s, after being rejected by corporatists in U.S. industry. It continued with management by objectives (MBO), first outlined by Peter Drucker and popularized in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1961 introduction of Robert McNamara’s Department of Defense Program Planning and Budgeting System (PPBS)—still driving defense budgeting decisions—and a string of similar bottom-line-chasing strategies culminated in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), derisively nicknamed by some as No Child Left Untested. Today, schools adopting these three- or four-letter solutions may appear better organized, more savvy, and smarter, but measures of student learning within them remain mostly unchanged or even diminished. Scattered successes feed the hopes of the optimistic, but under analysis, aggregate results almost always result in little, no, or negative benefit relative to cost. So, if schools are organizations, then why don’t organizational change strategies produce change? Where is the disconnect?

Perhaps the organizational structure of the educational entity does, in fact, change. However, the changes may not be those expected by interested parties such as parents, school boards, voters, administrators, governmental funding sources, teachers themselves, and, of course, the learners, who are expected to perform differently even though the change strategies being touted have little to do with improving what and how the learners do their job. It is the disconnect between measuring effectiveness at meeting learning goals and measuring how or whether the school’s structure, culture, and budgeting process are efficient that explains the disappointment brought about by each new report issued by some prestigious academic institution, contracted corporation, task force, and so on. These reports—typically reference outputs and test results—attach those results (usually failure) to whatever tweaks have been attempted in this year’s dollar chase. Outcomes that will serve individual learners on an ongoing basis as they continue to learn, such as differences in knowledge and skills, attendant attitudes, values and beliefs, personal goals, creativity, risk-taking propensity, and locus of control are usually given short shrift, as the reports instead zero in on how far above zero the aggregate standardized test scores hover.

While applying theory, research, and practice from the world of business, industry, and organizational structures in general appears to have minimal potential, what of the reverse process? What if we were to sift through a century of educational research looking for nuggets of wisdom to apply to organizational operations in hopes of improving corporate or institutional outcomes? Note that we have already lowered our expectations for such an approach when we suggested that noneducational organizations typically have goals that are focused less on the individual than those often assumed for schools. Since school-based models have produced little success when applied in their own realm, we hold little hope that adopting those models for enterprise would increase bottom lines much, though you never know.

One arena where both corporate and academic interests are presently focusing is that of brain research. Early uses of metaphorical models of the brain were adopted by business and industry as well as by educators (especially K-12) seeking to incorporate a wider selection of learner capabilities in the search for meaning beyond the collection of information and storage of knowledge. The split brain surgeries performed on epileptics brought the idea of two ways of knowing into relevance and viability; the idea that humans had one logical, linear mind and a second mind that was novel and creative suddenly gained credence. Today we know that healthy human brains share and collaborate across their corpus callosum, and the cat is out of the bag. We each have both functionalities and use them regularly, and if an individual is not creative or can’t do math it is more from lack of experience and practice than an innate lack of brain cells or regions designed for those activities.

So the brain’s functioning has been on the table for a while as a candidate for shared study by both teachers and managers. Now, it appears there are more such potential shared areas of interest centered on our three pounds of gray matter. As scientists now map ( thinking by means of MRIs, information we capture from those soon-to-be-available brain activity maps will provide clues as to how we think and how what we do changes how and what we think. For corporate interests you can imagine what their applications will be for the clues they gather—watch your wallet! For schools, teachers, and learners themselves, we can imagine other outcomes when we apply insights gained from watching our neurons exchange signals in response to involvement in a learning activity. Indeed, it can be imagined that, rather than hand over our private thought processes to marketing agents or productivity analysts, we may instead take charge of our neuron interchanges to achieve greater control over what, how much, and whether we learn. Does anyone fear what may occur when the functioning of the brain can be achieved through wireless means?

Relevance of Learning Theories, or Alignment (or Not) With Principles of Learning

Why is the learner valued? (1) Employees wanting to be more innovative (thereby increasing the value of their contribution to the business) should explore every opportunity to add to their knowledge base, (2) students should be valued because…they exist.

Of course, there is no one learning theory that applies to all learning. In fact, nearly all apply accurately to only certain and particular types, styles, and categories or purpose of learning incorporated into the particular theory put forth to describe that learning. A search for learning theories offers up anywhere from three to a dozen or more, as representative of the number needed to cover the field, depending on the source. For example, the American Psychological Association offered us twelve learner-centered psychological principles in 1990, then amended the list in 1997, adding two additional principles to the list in an attempt to impact the school reform efforts underway at the time. Those efforts continue today. Theories of learning are elusive; none seem to apply to all learning. Some even classify learning theories on a continuum as one ages or matures. This diversity among the choices of lists available as we explore the relevance of various learning theories should not discourage us from seeking alignment of those theories with principles offered by the many schools of learning. Theories help set the stage for judging and incorporating various principles of learning, with theory shedding light on the interests, biases, and expertise of the lists’ creators and principles providing a context within which to justify our practical choices as we apply strategies and tactics derived from any chosen principle.

In our search for congruence between learning principles and our tome’s title, To Learn, we were attracted to the APA’s list based simply on its title: Learner-Centered Psychological Principles. After all, who is the one that is to learn? We vote for the learner, and so are intrigued by the APA’s focus on principles that are learner-centered. In the end, however, we find that the APA’s list comes up short, blending the institutional requirements of public school reform efforts into its list of principles, thereby diluting the powerful aspects of the principles they offer. Note that we applaud virtually all 14 of the principles on their list and see them as contributing to a positive framework within which to build opportunities for learners to learn. The nit we pick, however, is which learning opportunities are seemingly rejected by the choice of wording in some of the principles on the list. Consider the following:

Principle #1 Nature of the learning process.The learning of complex subject matter is most effective when it is an intentional process of constructing meaning from information and experience.

An intentional process, while the expected approach assumed in formal schooling situations, is not the only, or even the most effective process for learning in all cases. By suggesting otherwise the folks at APA have marginalized informal and incidental learning. These types of learning can be very powerful, as they typically align with the interests of the learner much more closely than the institutional subjects and topics required of learners in school settings. While we are not suggesting the rejection of intentional processes of the institutions attended by learners, we care dearly for the learners’ interests as rich drivers of learning, and lobby strongly for maintenance of incidental and informal learning as useful and necessary to the advancement of learning.

Principle #2 Goals of the learning process.The successful learner, over time and with support and instructional guidance, can create meaningful, coherent representations of knowledge. The strategic nature of learning requires students to be goal directed. To construct useful representations of knowledge and to acquire the thinking and learning strategies necessary for continued learning success across the life span, students must generate and pursue personally relevant goals. Initially, students’ short-term goals and learning may be sketchy in an area, but over time their understanding can be refined by filling gaps, resolving inconsistencies, and deepening their understanding of the subject matter so that they can reach longer-term goals. Educators can assist learners in creating meaningful learning goals that are consistent with both personal and educational aspirations and interests.

Can a learner be successful without support and instructional guidance? Again the APA has implied by omission that the formal, school-based approach to learning, if not exclusive, is at least primary. We do not deny the usefulness of school practices and practitioner support, but again maintain that learner-centered approaches should be inclusive rather than exclusive.

Principle #14 Standards and assessment.Setting appropriately high and challenging standards and assessing the learner as well as learning progress—including diagnostic, process, and outcome assessment—are integral parts of the learning process. Assessment provides importantinformation to both the learner and teacher at all stages of the learning process. Effective learning takes place when learners feel challenged to work towards appropriately high goals; therefore, appraisal of the learner’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses, as well as current knowledge and skills, is important for the selection of instructional materials of an optimal degree of difficulty. Ongoing assessment of the learner’s understanding of the curricular material can provide valuable feedback to both learners and teachers about progress toward the learning goals. Standardized assessment of learner progress and outcomes assessment provides one type of information about achievement levels both within and across individuals that can inform various types of programmatic decisions. Performance assessments can provide other sources of information about the attainment of learning outcomes. Self-assessments of learning progress can also improve students’ self-appraisal skills and enhance motivation and self-directed learning.

The language set forth this APA principle is NCLB-speak for testing. With a small nod to self-assessment, this principle is most certainly an add-on with the hope of attracting support from the formal education community (and its quest to leave no child untested) for adopting the APA’s principles as part of its nationwide school reform movement. While we believe learners can profit from reflection, feedback, and progress reports as they pursue learning, we also believe that gathering aggregate data purely for the purpose of justifying funding, judging teachers, and ranking schools is misapplied, wasteful, and disrespectful of the time and effort put forth daily by teachers and students.

As for APA Principles #3 through #13, we find them quite acceptable and recommend them to you for bedtime reading.

In the end, whether discussing principles of learning or the theory of learning—or any aspect of the process and how it occurs—there is only learning! While the recognition of lifelong learning is far from new, the changes in society, especially due to the advances (or perhaps disruptions) caused by technology, have increased the possibility, even the necessity, for lifelong learning. Each job or career requires a worker to incorporate new skills and knowledge. There is an oft-quoted statistic that people entering the workforce today will experience an average of seven career changes during their lifetime. Some have questioned that statistic, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains that a typical worker will, on average, hold eleven different jobs during their working life. A single career for a lifetime was the mean less than a century ago.

So, as you read our references to the myriad choices of theories or principles and their related applications, you will find that we are eclectic in our selections. We will seek justification wherever we can find it for championing the cause of learners to learn. In so doing we will find cause to quote from both Burrhus Skinner and Brain Science, as well as our late mentor Bob Samples. (Bob was well known for pointing out the initials shared by all three and the potential implications of that coincidence.) We claim to be neither comprehensive nor fair in our choices, but we will seek relevance from what is known, logic from the guesswork we build on, and hope from the conjectures we put forth in our efforts to shore up the case for attending to the most important player in the learning game—the learner.

Among behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, social constructivism, humanism, and the rest are nuggets of truth. We will honor those and seek more. There is no question that each has evolved to acknowledge the efficacy of child-centered learning. We wish to extend those ideas within To Learn beyond the context of school to include all learners and learning contexts—formal, informal, school-based, work-based, home-based, or entrepreneurial—and to learner-recipient teaching outside the context of school. Additionally, we will claim relevance for all who assist in the process of learning as guides—teachers being only one category, title, or occupation. Guides can be parents, coaches, classmates, friends, mentors, sponsors, role models, supervisors, and so on. Learners themselves become guides to peer learners and others, and through reflection, take on the role of guide to enhance their own learning.

Degree and Type of Learning

To further complicate matters, different individuals learn in different ways. Viewed from the perspective of a teacher, guide, or other provider of information, this is always a concern. How does one convey a message so that all individuals within a group receive the same message? If what is received and learned varies among the recipients, how can one judge what has been learned? Shift perspectives again and we are confronted with the altered viewpoint provided when we acknowledge that simple transference of a message is not the same as information processed by the learner to become learner-owned knowledge. The human mind constructs knowledge from inputs, as opposed to merely receiving data. Consider, for example, how your opinion of the session you thought outstanding contrasts with that of a fellow attendee who thought it was a waste of time. This provides clear evidence that knowledge is constructed by the individual, not handed out equitably.

Presenters, when delving deeply into learning, have available various approaches to guide the process, including individual deliberations, group presentations or discussions, and collaborative learning, among others, along with multiple methods for arranging the environment, issuing invitations, supplying enticements, or crafting presentations.

Guiding learning can be complex.

Similarly, there are a great many options from which to choose when we attempt to assess learning. For simplicity let us consider three broad categories: knowledge, performance, and perpetuity.

Knowledge—One possesses information (facts or concepts) and can state it.

Performance—One can do something physically.

Perpetuity—One retains the ability to recreate the performance long after and within conditions dissimilar to when initially demonstrated (e.g., riding a bike on a safe, secluded bike path and also alongside of a highway with rapidly moving cars). For an athlete, he or she performs the skill first in practice and then under the pressure of a game with many spectators present, or an old baseball player can’t hit it out of the park any more but still can swing his body properly and with a correct swing pattern.

Assessing learning can be complex.

All this is to say that we have much to share and learn together. Still, there is only learning. We are confident that you, the reader, will profit from the array of theories, principles, and interpretations presented here so that not only will it enhance your ability to learn, but it will also serve as a framework from which you can be more effective at passing on information, supervising personnel, modeling behavior, coaching for skills, and teaching and guiding yourself and others to construct understanding.


This book is organized around a selection of topics that focus on the learner and the learner’s viewpoint, aspirations, talents, skills, and development. We cite the work of giants in the field of thought and education to the extent that the work supports the learner’s advancement. We argue that assessment of the learner’s advancement must be in terms of the learner’s own criteria.

At the end of each chapter there are applications for school, work, sports or life. Andy brings his background as teacher, administrator, player, coach and founder of KWIK GOAL to our To Learn exploration. Richard (Barney) sees his involvement with To Learn as an update of his co-authorship of the 1977 publication, The WholeSchool Book. There are also media suggestions for further learning, often YouTube videos, occasionally an article, and generally a question. This is certainly not an assessment question, but a question for you to delve deeper into your view, agreement or disagreement, and how you may use the data in the near future. It could be considered in a different light than it is offered, but be assured it was offered not just for reinforcement but for you to construct meaning for your usage.

We also acknowledge and honor the place of all who guide others in leadership positions, and professionals who are given responsibility to guide learners in pursuit of society’s expectations. Though that task is fraught with conflict, there are countless dedicated educators who work tirelessly to balance the system’s ever-changing requirements with the promise and potential that each individual learner brings to the engagement. Thank you for your service!

What’s Inside

We begin the journey by chronicling the learner’s voice, providing the reader a starting place for assessing how efforts for assisting learners match (or not) the wishes, intents, dreams and aspirations of the targets of those efforts. As learners ourselves we find resonance with many of the learners pleas we list.

We continue with a discussion of goals. We insist that there is a hierarchy of goals that reside within the learning process and that those goals held by the learners themselves (whether articulated or not) must be primary. We offer several viewpoints from which to inspect goals and their place in the learning process.

Principles offers an overview of learning theory, including behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism, as well as a bit of humanistic psychology.

Next we tour the topic by asking questions. In keeping with our insistence on the primacy of learner goals, we lobby for questions that either emanate from the learner’s own wonderment or are offered as invitations to learner-constructed knowledge rather than simple accumulation of information, and which lead to enrichment of the learner’s curiosity rather than merely a satisfactory response to the chapter quiz.

Next we provide a look at listening, often characterized as the exclusive job of the learner. Our take suggests that is equally the responsibility of the guide.

Next we explore the realm of growth and development with the ongoing tug of war between nature and nurture, though we see it more as a light-hearted discussion over a beer at the local tavern with no winners (or two winners). We illustrate the debate with subtopics illustrative of historical and current thought regarding types of and influences on learning, especially applicable to younger learners.

We follow with a leap into cognition, that arena most commonly assumed as the topic under consideration when learning is mentioned. We touch upon various subtopics representing windows into this complex universe, the brain—mind enterprise.

Our journey leads us next to motivation. We nitpick the use of the term while elevating the term beyond its misuse as a coercive tool. Our bias is that motivation is owned by the learner and that attempts to stimulate learners need to be chosen with care so as to sustain trust and contribute to their self-developed constructions, guiding gently so as not to interrupt their own self-corrections.

Creativity is our next topic. Learners begin their journey as creative souls. The worst-case scenario should be that they retain that characteristic in and through their learning efforts and hopefully that they are allowed, encouraged, and supported to enhance it.

We do not travel the path to learning alone. We exist within a context populated by fellow humans, organized or not, and our learning is affected (for better or worse, though hopefully the better) by the social learning that result. Each of us responds uniquely to the environmental, biological, emotional, and social stimuli that impinge upon us. This individuality defines us and ensures that there is no one exactly like us. While this means that we will not learn via cookie cutter methods, it also means that we can contribute to the world in ways no one else can.

We build on the concept of individuality by welcoming its result and complexity, and defining its benefits, a richness of viewpoint, talent, interest, experience, and aspiration. This diversity, while bringing complexity to the building of meaning within communities of learners, also provides a context that catapults thinking into new realms, offering opportunities possibly unmatched by solitary learners.

We add currency to our discussion of learning by offering our take on 21st century learning, its effect on those who have grown up within the tools and devices available to their generation, and the conflicts it provides those who have not.

Our perspective is offered on the role of the instructional leader, the one who takes on the daunting task of assisting learners. For the guide we marvel at your persistence, offer our thanks, and provide here our perspective on approaches available for your use, ideas based on research, experience, and the hope that we do not mislead by pretending to understand such approaches better than we do.

Inspecting a sampling of instructional tools and approaches provides a lens to apply to the learner’s place within each of their applications.

What is real, says who? ends our adventure through the pages, and we hope continues the never ending journey to learn.

So to the coach, guide, mentor, collaborator, teacher, parent, or model who struggles daily to give support and guidance to learners anywhere, we offer our sympathies, condolences, and heartfelt thanks. Keep on keeping on. You are the best!

Throughout the chapters you will find various experts—philosophers, educators, psychologists, scientists, authors, and so on—referenced. We have tried to tie their thoughtful work to the concepts we explore in this book so as to support learning, and the learners we celebrate, as a lifelong process. These experts exhibit the process through their work, their words, and their inspiring lives. Through our own work we have encountered learners who have inspired us. We know that the ideas contained herein can work because those learners exemplify the efficacy of those ideas. We also know that there are opportunities to extend the application of these ideas much further than they are now applied. The goals of many more learners can be acknowledged, honored, and incorporated; more learner questions can be solicited and more practitioner questions can be reformulated to encourage creativity, and fewer can be formulated only in order to maintain adult primacy.

We know that there are many practitioners who attempt daily to encourage creativity, who listen attentively to learner questions, and who seek to know learner desires, fears, hopes, and goals, and to use those to guide their instruction. We hope that the concepts presented here reinforce the beliefs of those practitioners that the learner is competent when honored; that questions of the learner are the most important ones; that the learner goals define the most likely arena for learner success; and that learners are creative when allowed, encouraged, and supported in pursuing creative thought. We wish to reinforce courageous practitioner attempts and to offer them encouragement through a view of learning that is hopeful, positive, and inviting, and that carries with it not just positive feedback, but integrable, expert, authoritative support, if not by the authors, at least by the current and historical figures we quote.

And finally to those learners who have followed our leads though the directions offered differed from their leanings, we wish you had been more insistent.

To those learners who balked at our directions, even though our directions were provided with the best of intentions, we acknowledge that you were right sometimes.

To those learners who went along and got along and even looked like you succeeded, you were lucky, and so were we—lucky to have you.


The purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence. —Rick Warren

As we explore learning from the perspective of the learner it is tempting to hold up the image of the feral wolf-child as a model with which to compare modern learners. The primitive child would be without the formal infrastructure constructed in an attempt to assist, accelerate, enable, repair, and heal those living with conditions that serve as barriers to learning. The beast child’s natural surroundings would also be without many of the assumed supports provided by modern living: books, schools, television, and cell phones, along with modern expectations, distractions, and intrusions.

Of course, this au naturel environment would provide its own issues for our primitive child to deal with. Attention would be focused more on survival than on expanding intellectual horizons. Formative assessment might consist of making it through the day, having successfully avoided being eaten, or having found a source of food and a warm, dry spot to bed down. Success on his or her summative assessment would consist of surviving to become assimilated into a feral social group with the hope, perhaps, of establishing a position of dominance within that group, or at least of finding a mate. His or her ability to contribute to the well-being of the tribe or pack would help ensure both his or her continued prosperity.

Most of us don’t live in a feral environment. Starbucks® exists, as do the Internet, schools, television, soccer, and mood lamps for waking up to a simulated sunrise. While we acknowledge that not all learners have full access to every modern advantage, the challenges posed to humans in a survival of the fittest society have been mitigated to a great extent with the assistance of educational processes designed, in part, to support learner success. What that success consists of varies according, mostly, to the vision, mission, and strategies employed by the societal entity charged with the task of educating the learner (i.e., what does it take to get out of school?).

Note that the entity controlling the learning process seldom includes the learner. Who asks the learner? Observing educational processes in schools, factories, athletic fields, and so on leaves us with the impression that learning, from the viewpoint of the learner, is mostly a process of being told. Usually, the guides who are identified as exceptional are singled out due to their ability to tell in such a way that the learner can retell what they have been told. Sometimes the telling is disguised as inquiry or discovery, but telling is not teaching. What is typically inquired about or discovered is seldom of the learner’s choosing, but rather is the choice of the guide (who has likely been told what that choice is by others within the organization to which they are beholden).

Where is the voice of the learner? Mostly it is a voice crying in the wilderness, thus leading us back to the metaphor of the feral child. Do most of society’s learners strive to achieve the same level of success as the wolf-child? Is their attention more focused on survival than on expanding their intellectual horizons? Are the formative assessments they are confronted with seen by them as something to endure on their way to the end of the exercise? Is lunch more important to them than feeding their own curiosity, knowing that their wonderment is offered little legitimacy? Is the modern version of a warm, dry spot anywhere away from the tasks they are assigned and the guide who assigned them? Is success, seen from their view, simply rejoining their social group away from the rigors of guide-provided direction? And if there is a voice of the learner, who listens? Are there empathetic ears, supportive guides, or responsive mentors?

Our aim here is to explore what informed and engaged learners might ask of the system that purportedly is there to assist them in their learning journey. We offer an outline of what such a system might consist of and how it might approach the process of integrating curious learners with the rich resources our modern world provides. We provide suggestions for guides so they might amplify the often silent voices and pleas of their learners, incorporating them as building blocks in a partner-built, learner-centered exploration.

What Does It Mean to Hear the Learner’s Voice?

Learners range in voice from silent to cacophonic; from meek to boisterous; from naive to sophisticated; from isolated to unified; from hesitant to urgent. Throughout this book we have scattered quotes, real or imagined, from those to whom this book is dedicated: the learners. We have tried to match those quotes to the topics with which they are paired. We have also listed below a few of those phrases we have heard, imagined, or hoped to have emanated from learners in our own experiences, from reports by parents, educators, interested bystanders, friends, and co-workers. Each phrase expresses a plea for recognition that the learner offering it desires: an acknowledgement that, given the opportunity, permission, resources, assistance, and freedom, the learner wishes the chance to try, to struggle, to build, to fail, to try again, to demonstrate, to explore, to seek, to wonder, to …

Some Learner Requests

Connect with me when I wonder but let me wonder alone for a while.

If our time is filled with your teaching, when will I learn?

Recognize that I am unique and have my own talents and limitations.

Engage me so your hopes for me might find a match with my dreams.

Respond to me.

Inspire me when I seem uninspired.

Empower me when I appear to have lost confidence.

Let me fail, then help me succeed.

Introduce me to significant problems and projects for our work together.

Create opportunities for my classmates and me to effect change in our community.

Let me explore; join me if I ask.

Let me cheat (talk with my peers; look up answers; read my notes; use resources like books or the Internet).

I want to learn with and from my peers and share my talents, skills, and knowledge with them.

Ask me what I want to learn about. Ask me about my hopes, dreams, wishes and fears.

Speak of our work together as interesting and important. Speak of my contribution as meaningful.

Invite visualization, fantasy, and dreams.

Start with what I know, even if it’s wrong, then help me fix what’s wrong.

Don’t just tell me about something; help me understand it. Your solutions don’t guarantee my understanding.

Introduce ideas when and so I can see a reason for their use.

Provide me with regular and timely feedback so I can use it to continue my development and improve my skills and knowledge.

In summary, I guess what I am asking for is a chance to be part of my learning process.

Hear their pleas. Only one thing extinguishes these voices: deaf ears.

Application of the Learner’s Voice for Sport, Business, Social Organizations

If the goals of the individuals who are doing the learning, playing the sport, working in business, or are members of the social organization are not attended to, then maximum effort, enriched learning, expanded production, and other broad measures of success will not be met over the long run.

When a learner’s goals are respected leaders target their actions more effectively and learn much more themselves. Respect is always a two-way street; it cannot be obtained without giving it. The era of top-down management, coaching by intimidation, or telling as the pathway to learning is over; these ideas are no longer effective, if they ever were. The short-term payback for those approaches may deceive a guide who mistakes agreement for understanding or imitation for originality. Achieving long-term goals requires that those being guided attain ownership of the process, the pathway, and the goals, or else they will remain followers only.

The goals of coaches, trainers, managers, boards of directors, and fans must be given proper attention. Proper attention means that the way an organization does things should meet the needs of all those involved. Winning is only one indication of learning, and for each winner there are others who have tasted defeat at the hands of that winner. That taste is also a learning experience and represents a broadening of the scope that participation represents. An empathetic guide can morph defeat into learning.

Winning does not explain the tremendous loyalty of fans whose teams struggle. Everyone can name teams and individuals who have loyal supporters but records revealing only modest success. No team succeeds without fans who give voice to the team, and through that act, voice to themselves. No learner succeeds without voice, because voice yields grit. At the professional level no fans equals no money which equals no team. Only in America can you lose forever and not lose your franchise.


YouTube: “This Week Sunday Spotlight: I Speak for Those Without Voice” (4 minutes). The desire for the learner to learn can never be exemplified better than by Malala Yousafzai.

YouTube: “The Daily Show: My Extended Interview With Malala Yousafzai” (16 minutes). It is difficult for youngsters who have such easy access to learning and education to fully understand Malala; hopefully adults do understand those with little access to learning.


Do you think we can increase the amplitude of the learner’s voice? We are going to give the learner what voice we can in this text, in our family lives and in our professional work. In what ways can you invite greater voice for others? For you?



[The following is a first-person account by one of the authors, a reflection on a comment made by one of his students in a long-ago but not forgotten classroom. This experience had a profound effect on how the author approached learning. He hears the comment in his reflections and asks it himself as he prepares learning situations for others.]

It was a brilliant presentation. I had fully prepared for it, researching the topic with my full array of resources, adding color to the overhead transparencies, devising examples for each point, and timing the overheads so as to maintain attention throughout. As the last slide summarized the message and the lights came up I anticipated insightful questions from the learners, questions that would lead us to a deeper exploration of the topic and open the door to tomorrow’s topic, which I was already organizing in my mind.

As I placed the projector on cool-down mode, I casually commented to the class that the topic was currently of great interest to scientists and was the basis for research studies in many government agencies and universities.

“So what?!”

The question came from the back of the room. I knew who said it. It wasn’t the first time and, as usual, the comment elicited a few chuckles from the rest of the class. I don’t remember if I responded; more than likely, I ignored it. Or did I?

This time I left the building with the words echoing in my brain. I spent a good deal of time trying to manufacture a rational response I might use in a future repeat of the question, but none materialized that day or, for that matter, for years to come.

In the time since the “So What?!” incident, my mind has returned to that phrase regularly. As I built a career assisting others to gain competence with teaching I slowly began to see in their classrooms what it was that had long ago triggered that learner’s reaction in mine. Observing learner—teachers, I began to utter silently “So what?” as I watched the newbies exhibit expertise that had little to do with their learners’ lives, and I began to search for a better answer. Later in my career, while providing professional development opportunities for active teachers (ones who I hoped had avoided the dreaded back-of-the-classroom assault), I wondered to myself, “So what?” as I observed their efforts to appear expert and convey prepackaged knowledge.

Over time I have come to realize that I was working on the wrong end of the issue. Instead of a retort that would either quell the questioner or answer with logic, what I and the colleagues I was training needed to do was revisit the purpose of the presentation. Reflecting on goals provides me (and others I work with) not with an answer to the question “So what?” but rather a way forward to constructing meaningful interactions that include not only the content, but also the learner, a heretofore unknown, or at least unattended to, part of this equation.

In learning it is easy to lose track of whose education it is we are working on. There are many entities at play in the educational enterprise and each has its own set of goals. Each of those disparate goals impinges on those of the learner. We want federal funding so we pay attention to the Department of Education’s goals. We want our district to appear high on the state’s list of quality schools so we adopt the state’s goals. Our district wants public support so we focus on our community and district’s goals. Our school hopes to be seen as a lighthouse so we aim to fulfill our school’s goals. It continues to the grade level and even the classroom, each having some achievable set of goals to pursue so the teachers can claim competence. And while each of these goals is worthwhile, each is also a potential distraction from attention to those for whom those goals are ostensibly developed. Thus, it should not be unexpected when a learner asks “So what?!” and when they do, it should be apparent where to look to remedy the situation. If the learner’s goals are incorporated into our deliberations, if what a learner knows is the beginning of our discussion, and if a learner’s understanding is articulated and used as a measure from which to advance, then it is much more likely that the learner will participate in creating greater understanding. And isn’t that our primary goal?

Thus, I have evolved in my approach to teaching, focusing much more on the learner, mining for their goals and grooming their reasons for participating in our exchanges. My introductions today (mostly in visitations, seminars, and professional development settings) are designed to invite the learners to participate in some activity (usually one that is hands-on and avoids conversation-ending factoids and easy answers) as a basis for achieving a common, shareable experience for all attendees.

In the short time available for a workshop or seminar it is important that participants have a common beginning point or shared experience. Here is my learning cycle (truncated for use in workshop situations):

The assignment that initiates this process should be specific (so participants know when they are finished) and ambiguous (so participants do the work of defining the task and organizing its exploration).

Example: Storytelling using images. Have each participant cut out one image selected from an old pile of magazines. Create teams of seven by some random selection process. Team members then place their pictures in an agreed upon row while devising a story based on the images. The guide provides as much or as little direction regarding expectations of the story as desired. Less invites decision-making while more suppresses it but may speed up the process. Teams then describe their story. Voting for the best, most creative, most colorful, and so on is optional.

This is followed by reflection. Participants are asked to reflect on the assignment, their participation, and its potential as a model for their own future use. Individuals then share their reflections with their teammates. Follow-up consists of creating a short agreed upon report that represents a collaborative team reflection.

Conceptualization can emerge from a follow-up group discussion comparing and contrasting team reflections. The discussions can evolve into how a similar activity would apply in environments where each of them operate. The why or why not discussion of implementation strategies might lead to some participants feeling inclined to use the process as a model for back home organizational improvement. This represents the final step, experimentation, in the learning cycle:





At any point in the cycle the question “So what?!” can be asked.

In the short learning episode of a workshop, the experimentation stage may be carried out through visualization or a survey of the entire group.

I characterize this approach as beginning with what (doing), so what (this is familiar, no?), and what now (serving as the new what), crude parallels to Kolb’s learning cycle:

Concrete experience (DO)

Reflective observation (OBSERVE)

Abstract conceptualization (THINK)

Active experimentation (PLAN)

In workshops each step is truncated and compressed in order to experience them all by the session’s end. In a classroom each step can be extended fully to allow time for learners to repeat experiences; carry out in-depth reflection; and research fully to amend, enhance, and enrich thinking so the new experiment or experience results in heightened understanding.

(Kolb, 1984, p. 38)

When the process provides an authentic real world experience over an extended period of time the learners will have experienced project-based learning. Dewey would be proud.

Andy, one of us, the authors, comments:

I see no reason why this exact general procedure would not be productive in a sales meeting, or boardroom, conference, or convention presentation. Whenever astute presenters survey the present level of understanding of participants, using either presenter-designed questions, or questions from those in attendance before, during, and after the presentation, they not only show respect for the learner, but also insure a closer relationship of content to the learner’s needs.

Permitting questions throughout, if this can be managed by the presenter, is often best. Technological support, such as a backchannel utility, provides the presenter with ongoing feedback from the audience or a watchful assistant. Presenters who modify instructional levels by monitoring the learner’s present level of understanding and adjusting in response are more likely to avoid confronting their audiences with presentations that are overly difficult or so easy as to be boring. They are also less likely to hear “So what?!” from the back of the room.

Soliciting participation of the audience in summarizing the presentation again honors their involvement and provides an opportunity for the presenter to clarify points, correct misinterpretations, and in general maximize understanding of the information presented. The feedback is useful as well for the presenter for his or her learning and to improve future presentations.

Application: Sport and All Organizations

All coaches and leaders of organizations have experienced the blank look of those we are communicating to, whether we are a trainer, mentor, CEO, guest lecturer, or consultant. If our goals do not meet, or at least respect, the goals of the recipient learners, success is nearly impossible. We might, through humor, drama, participatory activity, or other engaging techniques, entertain, but entertainment does not necessarily translate to learning, changes in behavior, improvement of the organization, or other forms of progress. This is not to say there is no place for humor, interesting anecdotes, media items, and other stimulating elements. Probing, surveying, listening, and similar methods that clarify the learner’s goals are critical to assisting learners.

Accomplished leaders and information disseminators are careful to insure that the learner’s goals are being met. Polite recipients can convince presenters that their goals are being met, especially if the presenter does not monitor audience response to the presentation. Convincing learners that the presenter’s goals are legitimate, interesting, or useful can substitute to some extent for meeting learner goals but are lesser outcomes. Deep learning—changes in the learner’s performance or ideas—occurs when the learner’s goals are met. This presupposes that they are involved in development of those goals and that the presenter honors their goals.

What of partner, team, or corporate goals involving more than the individual’s goals? One must realize that partners, teams, and memberships are made up of individuals. For any of those to succeed requires accommodation—if not agreement—with the individual’s goals and those of the organization, or else the outcome will be disagreement, dissolution, or dismissal, often accompanied by subversion or worse.

In sport a team’s goal is often assumed to be restricted to winning. In reality the goals of getting better, developing specific skills, providing maximum effort, and attending to the details of the sport and the organization are a necessity, not an option and, if supported and rewarded by the team, contribute to the team’s success.

A balanced unity of individual or personal goals and team goals is accomplished in the simplest manner imaginable yet is often overlooked. Individual or personal goals that include improving the performance of the team can be groomed and fostered. This is accomplished most easily when the team honors the goals of its members. Such unity provides for individual improvement with the understanding that each member contributes to organizational success. Selfish personal goals (e.g., to be the team’s high scorer) can conflict with team goals if they reduce the individual’s effectiveness within the group’s development. Under closer inspection within a broader context, selfish goals are more likely to also limit the individual’s own overall advancement. So, by assisting the individual to advance their concept of personal goals within the team concept, both the team and the individual become more effective.

A coach—whether working one-on-one with a player, at practice with a set of position players, in a clinic with peers, or at a game serving as guide and cheerleader—helps to maximize learning by assuring players are active; that is, when they are playing. Just as telling is not teaching, coaching is not telling. Players learn to play by playing; ideally every learning activity players are asked to participate in should incorporate playing.

In the end it all relates to respect for the learner, and the realization that acknowledging, honoring, and accommodating learner goals invariably increases learning. Try this procedure in a presentation that you are especially well versed in for your first attempt, as this will improve in the ability to use the methodology in areas where you are less comfortable with the content.


We like the idea of constructivism, discovery learning, and inquiry. But what if that path is too hard?

Suppose we can convince the learner that the rich resources we have available now are interesting, fun, and productive and can lead to their success? Learner acceptance of external goals enables the use of powerful strategies, tactics, and tools that have been developed using behaviorist and cognitivist approaches. Learner buy-in is key for this approach to be successful, and opens the door for the coach, teacher, or leader to incorporate well-designed curricula, teaching strategies, and online resources to aid learners in achieving agreed upon goals and objectives.

Is this simply another excuse to reject constructivism and return to the structured comfort of cognitivism and its external reality? Perhaps, but with a caveat: there is a reality which the instructional setting imposes on teachers and coaches on a daily basis. That reality is the external demands placed on them (perhaps even by them) for accountability, winning, self-preservation, and so on. The question arises, as it has previously: Whose goals? Sometimes the system wins. But not always.

In A.S. Neill’s Summerhill, (Neill, 1960) the English school of the title maintained, at least for one student, no requirements, but instead provided only an invitation for her to participate. This student chose what many people assume (though perhaps mistakenly) would be the choice of most students should the offer be genuine: not to participate. Eventually, after what most would consider a string of unproductive years, the student became interested in entering university and discovered that in order to do so she would have to exhibit some level of expertise with, of all things, reading, something she had avoided since infancy. Now that she had defined a purpose for herself, she devoted herself to the task and within months had become an accomplished reader, able to absorb the contents of books which would prepare her for university entrance examinations.

Two points here: 1) The school was mostly normal in all other aspects except for lack of insistence that she participate. 2) They weren’t fooling.

Now, is this the way to get all hesitant students to come around? No, because, in fact, she did not come around. She instead found her purpose, and when she did the school was there to support her. As it turns out the school’s resources were in line with those needed for her to achieve her purpose. After all, university is an academic institution, and her school served, among others, students aspiring to university entrance. Therefore the model would perhaps fail with learners whose newfound purpose was something for which the school was not prepared to provide support.

But Summerhill is a book worth reading because it portrays the possibility that putting a learner’s goals first can bring about enormous commitment from the learner. It also describes a school’s leader who was fully invested in finding, as well as responding to, the learner’s interests.

We use this example to offer solace to those who, when viewing learning theories, find constructivism attractive, but, when entering their classroom or practice field are overwhelmed with the realities of many players, students, or employees; bureaucratic demands; diverse parental philosophies; timelines; schedules; calendars; and so on. If you can acknowledge, honor, and incorporate learner goals that are different from your own, you have a fighting chance of forming a partnership with that learner wherein you both realize some mutual satisfaction. Sometimes societal demands will be met, sometimes the learner’s demands will be met, sometimes both. What should be avoided is achieving societal goals while discounting the learner’s.

Goals acceptable to the learner may differ significantly from those assumed by the guide or the system within which the guide operates. Happiness is seldom listed in the outcomes our institutions pursue as benefits for their clients. We seem obsessed to push learners to reach plateaus on timelines designed so they will not suffer the consequences of missing the window of opportunity when learning a skill is optimal. At the same time we miss the point that pushing to meet such timelines may serve as a barrier to learner buy-in. Can a learner who misses that window overcome the failed maturational opportunity later? If not, are there alternative avenues available to that learner which can offer success of a different sort? A grand plan that succeeds from the system’s viewpoint may be an utter failure when the learner associated with the success does not share that viewpoint.

Of course, for learners who totally reject teacher-imposed outcomes, the challenge remains: how can the learner’s motivations be incorporated into our system’s requirements? Learner acceptance of external goals provides a needed pathway, but only for those learners willing to buy in. Some teachers can do the sell and recruit the reluctant, but even for them there are the learners who won’t buy in. Perhaps there is solace in the myriad of anecdotes that portray CEOs and other successful adults as having been dropouts from our system and achieving fame, wealth, and satisfaction without the benefit of our teacher- or system-imposed outcomes. If we portray our schools as mothers of the learned we must acknowledge that success also has many fathers, and many definitions, not all of them owned by the system.

More on Goals: Outcomes vs. Process

Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes.—Kolb’s Learning Styles and Experiential Learning Model

If learning is seen as outcomes then we are only a step away from concluding that existent outcomes (e.g., those listed in the tables of contents of our children’s schoolbooks) represent the learning which our learners should be pursuing. One could spend considerable time pursuing an understanding of graduate school-level physics. Much of that pursuit might consist of absorbing (memorizing, discussing, and