Following earlier research on learning stories, the Learning Development Institute engaged in a second phase of this research, namely the generation and analysis of so-called second order learning stories. Results of this second phase of the research were presented on the fourth day of the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association in New Orleans, April 1-5, 2002. Users of this site are referred to the Meaning of Learning (MOL) section of this site (which can be found under 'activities') for further detail about the broad framework of the learning stories research. Sample learning stories are also available on this site, as are details about the presentation of research results of the first phase of the Learning Stories Project at the 2000 International Conference of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology.
Here is an example of a second order learning story. (Use the back button of your browser to return to this page after accessing the sample second order learning story.)
Following is the approved proposal for the presentation and discussion session at the AERA meeting in 2002.



Jan Visser, Yusra Laila Visser, Ray Amirault, Cole D. Genge, Vachel Miller



Following earlier research on spontaneously generated learning stories, qualitative research is being conducted on learning stories that were written by subjects after they have been exposed to the results of the earlier research. These "second order learning stories" generally reveal a deeper level of reflection on the part of their authors. Like during the first phase of the research, their analysis contributes to elucidating a broader range of meanings of the concept of 'learning' than those that orient the mainstream research and practice in the various academic and practical fields that pertain to the science of learning. The proposed paper reports on the results of this second phase of research. Recommendations for further research and the instructional design practice, based on an analysis of the research results, will be discussed.



Learning is a poorly defined concept. For many people its meaning is biased towards what happens in the traditional schooling and training contexts. However, learning, as an essential dimension of the human existence, pervades life in all its different aspects. It engages people, as well as the social entities they constitute, throughout the lifespan. The strong focus on learning as a consequence of instruction in existing discourse has created a mindset among researchers and practitioners that looks upon the creation of the conditions of learning mostly in terms of instructional parameters. As a result, there is a deficit in learning research in areas that are not covered by or connected to instructional practice. Consequently, insufficient attention is paid to creating the conditions that foster and support learning in non-instructional settings. There is, therefore, an urgent need to explore the meaning of learning in its broadest sense. The research reported on in this session aims at contributing to broadening our vision of learning so as to refocus current research and inspire the opening of new fields.


In response to the above problem, a systematic inquiry has been underway for more than a year to determine what people perceive to be their most meaningful learning experiences and what conditions are seen to have enabled these learning experiences. A first phase of this inquiry was completed at the end of 2001 and reported in a paper presented at a major international conference that same year. It is currently being followed by a second, more elaborate, phase of research, which is the topic of the proposed paper for the 2002 AERA Annual Meeting.

During a first phase of the research, 50 narratives were collected of people whose ages ranged from seven years old to 65 years old. The authors of these narratives were diverse in terms of ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic background, as well as in terms of the degree and nature of their involvement in formal education. Each of the collected narratives responded to the following three concerns formulated by the researchers:

  1. Elucidation of the participant's most meaningful learning experience.
  2. Clarification about why these learning experiences were considered meaningful.
  3. Determination of the key conditions that allowed these learning experiences to occur.

Once the narratives had been collected, the information generated in them was coded and analyzed.
The data generated in the learning stories were analyzed in terms of the three dimensions of each learning story, i.e., the description of the actual meaningful learning experience, each author's rationale for describing the learning experience as his/her most meaningful one, and the description of the conditions enabling the learning experience.

In analyzing the data, the following procedure was employed, based on research design specifications for the analysis of unstructured data (Sapsford & Jupp, 1996):

  1. A thorough analysis was conducted of a sample of the learning stories collected, to identify aspects of the data that could be significant. Subsequently categories and subcategories were identified that were relevant to the data in the sample with respect to the chosen research focus.
  2. Segments of data from different parts of the selected sample data were gathered and assigned to the categories.
  3. All items of data assigned to the same category were analyzed through the "constant comparative method" (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), to clarify what the categories that had emerged meant, as well as to identify sub-categories and relations among categories. In the process, these categories were developed further, and some data segments were reassigned to new categories.
  4. The data items gathered were analyzed once more, to determine whether any data segments previously identified as irrelevant had been overlooked.
  5. Additional data samples were analyzed and coded using the approach described in the previous steps, until the complete data set had been categorized and analyzed.

The approach for data analysis described above was iterative in nature, generating categories and interpretations of the data in terms of these categories (Sapsford & Jupp, 1996).

A similar analysis procedure will be applied to the second order learning stories generated during the current, second, phase of the study. These "second order learning stories" are different from the ones initially generated in the following way. The learning stories collected during the first phase were all the result of a spontaneous response to the three-pronged prompt specified above. The learning stories currently being collected as part of the second phase of the study are no longer a spontaneous reaction to that same prompt. Rather, before the prompt is given to the subjects, they have first been thoroughly exposed to the results of the first phase of the study. Consequently, their narratives are reflective of their learning experience interpreted against the backdrop of the results derived from the earlier phase of the investigation. One could also say that they constitute a critical reflection on the results of the first phase of the study from the perspective of the author's learning experience, leading to greater detail and greater depth.


The research results of the first phase of the study reveal that people perceive their learning as meaningful when any or more of the following things happen:

Such learning was found to be particularly facilitated when:

Very few of the learning stories that were collected made any direct reference to the school context. Among those that did, only a small proportion reported positively about the school. The larger proportion represented stories of survival, i.e., stories of people who had been able to overcome the negative impact of the school environment on them and therefore, as mentioned above, to turn this initially negative condition into a positive challenge.


The research to be reported on in the proposed paper is currently still ongoing and will be complete by the time the New Orleans meeting takes place. A first inspection of a current total of approximately 70 second order learning stories collected to date show that they are generally more detailed and longer than the narratives collected during the first phase and that author's take greater care to reflect on the role of the school (both positive and negative) as an important element in the development of their learning behavior. It is expected that the findings from this second phase of the study will provide deeper insight into the broad meaning of learning as related to the most meaningful learning experiences of people across demographic attributes, as well as elucidate more specifically the types of conditions facilitating such meaningful learning. The findings from this second phase of the study are thus expected to serve as a rich source of information for redefining the concept of learning, and thus to expand the range of instructional and non-instructional parameters to be taken into account in the design of learning environments, the development of learning practice, the decision making regarding what to research and what not to research, and policy making.