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We consider the problem of average throughput maximization per total consumed energy in packetized sensor communications. Our study results in a near-optimal transmission strategy that chooses the optimal modulation level and transmit power while adapting to the incoming traffic rate, buffer condition, and the channel condition. We investigate the point-to-point and multinode communication scenarios. Many solutions of the previous works require the state transition probability, which may be hard to obtain in a practical situation. Therefore, we are motivated to propose and utilize a class of learning algorithms [called reinforcement learning (RL)] to obtain the near-optimal policy in point-to-point communication and a good transmission strategy in multinode scenario. For comparison purpose, we develop the stochastic models to obtain the optimal strategy in the point-to-point communication. We show that the learned policy is close to the optimal policy. We further extend the algorithm to solve the optimization problem in a multinode scenario by independent learning. We compare the learned policy to a simple policy, where the agent chooses the highest possible modulation and selects the transmit power that achieves a predefined signal-to-interference ratio (SIR) given one particular modulation. The proposed learning algorithm achieves more than twice the throughput per energy compared with the simple policy, particularly, in high packet arrival regime. Beside the good performance, the RL algorithm results in a simple, systematic, self-organized, and distributed way to decide the transmission strategy.