Learning and Teaching as Communicative Acts: What I learned from an 11-year-old teacher.

Izzy and Luke Play Minecraft

I am flabbergasted. I just watched a YouTube video of an 11-year-old girl meticulously applying the principles of Jurgen Habermas’ (1981/1984; 1981/187) Theory of Communicative Actions while teaching her 6-year-old brother to play Minecraft. (wow.)

Theory of Communicative Actions

Let’s create a framework. Jurgen Habermas (June 18, 1929 – ) is a German philosopher and sociologies considered to be one of the greatest and most influential scholars and theorists of our decade.  While Habermas’ work includes a plethora of seminal studies on ethics, morality, naturalism, religion, politics, and law, it is his empirical search for truth that has led to his prominence.

Habermas believes that, in an objective world, the author of truth is pragmatic epistemological realism – rather than consensus. Using this premise as his guide, Habermas (2000) wrote The Theory of Communication Action (TCA), a two-volume critical study of the theories of rationality, which established him as a major mine among his peer (Pusey, 2002). 

TCA seeks to improve the effectiveness of human communication by exploring how we communicate, learn, and why. Because of its profound opinions about how we find and define “the truth,“, researchers began examining all aspects of TCA to determine if the premise was applicability to educational. Repeated studies did find Habermas’ conceptual theories applicable in relation to communications between teachers, students, and peers.  As a result, Habermas’ TCA is now used by educators worldwide to understand the role communicative acts play in learning, teaching, and education daily.  

TCA’s premise is: Communication has pure types of linguistical mediated interactions: strategic, conversation constative, normative, and dramaturgical actions. These actions are referred to by Habermas as “communicative actions.” 

Habermas explained strategic communicative actions are spoken instrumental, strategic teleological actions that relay technical knowledge or strategies to the learner that claim to represent the truth. Constative communicative actions are the conversational theoretical discourse the learner has silently while contemplating whether the strategic truths are accepted or rejected.  The learner then engages in social normative communicative actions with society to discuss and negotiates the validity of the truth claim. If the claim is determined to be valid and in alignment with societal moral values, rules, and judgments, then the learner accepts the validity of the truth claim. The learner is now ready to demonstrate acceptance of the truth claim by making a dramaturgical communicative action representing the acceptive truth in the form of an oral presentation of artistic expression (Haberbas, 2000, p. 164, 171).

Figure 1 illustrates TCA communicative actions.

Habermas: Theory of Communicative Actions (2000)

Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions

So. What does this have to do with two little kids playing Minecraft?

Glad you asked.

During the interactive Minecraft action learning sequence, the little student’s Minecraft avatar fell into a hole. The young teacher provided her little student with concrete and specific instructions for jumping his avatar out of the hole (strategic communicative actions).

But, “Nooooo!” The little student repeatedly challenged his young teacher’s truth claim convinced he could jump his avatar out of the hole without her help or following her instructions (constative communicative actions).

Supported by readily available “Minecraft society rules” in the form of Aphmau (Aphmau In Pain | MyStreet: Starlight [Ep.22] | Minecraft Roleplay, 2017), a Subject Matter Expert with YouTube 2,268,018 views, the young teacher began negotiations with her little student and continued talking to him until he was finally convinced of the truthfulness of her claim: If he listened to her, she could tell him how to jump his avatar out of that hole (normative communicative actions).  

After finally surrendering to “the truth” of his young teacher’s truth and the Minecraft’s society rules, the little student followed his young teacher’s directions and jumped his avatar out of that hole so quickly and proficiently – he lost track of where the avatar was for a moment or two (dramaturgical communicative action). 

Not to worry though. His patient young teacher was right there to help him find his avatar again.

Ha! How cool was that? 

It’s amazing the things we can learn from little kids if we just give them some attention, huh?


Aphmau In Pain | MyStreet: Starlight [Ep.22] | Minecraft Roleplay [Video file]. (2017, August 19). Retrieved from https://youtu.be/yCqOdWXtPUM

Habermas, J. (2000). On the pragmatics of communication. MIT press.

Pusey, M. (2002). Jurgen Habermas. Routledge.

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