More Detailed Explanation of How it all Began…..

I started my professional career as an Electrical Engineer with a deep interest in physics and the philosophy of science. Firstly; doing my National Service to eventually as a captain in R.E.M.E: and then on de-mob, as an electrical instrument designer and then as production manager in a manufacturing company. After graduating in psychology, in the evenings at Birkbeck College London, I first became Statistics Manager to Professor Reg. Revans Size and Morale project at the The Acton Society Trust; and later with a PhD. in “Subjective Judgement in Industrial Inspection” I transferred to the Tavistock Research Institute to become resident researcher in the Department of Management and Production Engineering, in what first became Brunel C.A.T and then Brunel University. There I was asked to chair a Senate committee on how to help students to become more effective learners. All of the committee members except for myself and the Reader in the Physics were absolutely sure that listening skills and better note-making together with some ambiguous advice about preparing for examinations, was what was required. They made their own recommendations to Senate which were distributed to all departments, whilst he and I made a separate, much more sensible report? which the Senate filed and forgot.

I have spent the longest and major part of my career in pursuit of a form of psychology that would enable me to help people to Learn how to Learn; so becoming Self-Organised Learners.

This pursuit has raised some fundamental issues which I can only explain in terms of the developing sequence of research methodologies that we required and developed to examine and adequately explain the evidence, as we carefully evoked and collected it:-

Our Seven Stages of Research

  1. Cause and Effect. Newtonian physics required the researcher to hold constant everything other than the phenomena they are investigating.
  2. This incorporates ‘Cause and Effect’ and adds greater complexity including feedback and feed-forward controls. The boundary remains sealed.
  3. Systems Theory. This incorporates the Cybernetic Processes but opens the boundaries so that results of flow or communication in either direction may be systematically investigated.
  4. Self-organizing Systems. This incorporates the intricacies of Systems Theory but attributes life preserving properties to the coordination among the sub-systems of the system in question; in response to the two-way flow or communication across each sub-system’s boundaries and those of the system as a whole.
  5. Self-Organised-Learning (S-O-L). This incorporates the activities of Self-organizing Systems including their ability to communicate in many ways, but also requires that the parts systematically respond, change and develop in the light of the experience of the whole. S-O-L not only involves self-organization of the first order i.e. learning from personal experience, without much conscious awareness of the process. At a second level, S-O-L consciousness enables us to reflect upon and thus self-organize the very process of self-organization itself.
  6. Learning Conversation. This incorporates Self-Organised-Learning and yet is at the same time its major tool. The Learning Conversation is a two-way process between S-O-Lers, even within one person (conversing with oneself). It requires that each participant attempts to represent their meaning to the other(s), and that they all attempt to create more personally significant, relevant and viable meaning in themselves in response to their own experience and the others representations of their experience and their understandings.
  7. Conversational Science which results from these first six, which will be discussed later.

At Brunel as senior lecturer in Production Engineering, I moved with Marie Jahoda to pioneer the first undergraduate sandwich course in psychology in the U.K. And in the time it took to create the course we had designed (1962-1963) I was sent to the U.S.A. (just post-Sputnik) to monitor the impact this had in funding new psychology research. During this time I met and worked in Bruner’s Labs, The Menninger Foundation and with Carl Rogers research team: among a variety of shorter and less relevant visits. On my return to Brunel I found the sandwich course in psychology was ready to start. This was very popular and successful.  But, six years later given Marie Jahoda’s retirement and the various academic politics at play; as Reader in Psychology, I found it necessary to form CSHL as a Research Institute with its own Senate Governing Board. I intended to continue to develop the sandwich method at the post-graduate level.

CSHL had two functions:-

  1. As a self-funding Research Institute in Human Learning.
  2. To enrol mature part-time post-grad students studying for a PhD by action research.

This initiative enabled me and my team to pursue action research into Human Learning, in its natural habitats of work, sport, the arts, the community, government, education and elsewhere. To investigate the “real effects” of our research activities we have conducted them on the shop floor, on a frigate, in a bank, in infant and secondary schools, in colleges and universities, and major companies both here and abroad; even in workshops for educational psychologists and psychotherapists. As you will see from other parts of this website, research effort has been financed partly by government research grants; and partly by funding from industrial and commercial organisations.

Our part-time PhD students varied from a police inspector, to a member of a government committee on drug addiction, to a number of teachers, to a retired first division goalkeeper who worked with the British Olympic rowers, to a senior psychologist in the cabinet office, to the training manager of the London Fire Service, to a Zen apprentice and a Clinical Nursing Tutor in a well known hospital prison, and to the Mails manager in Reading Royal Mail Head Quarters: to name but a few of the jobs that eventually produced over 40 Higher Degrees in Human Learning.

As many of you will be aware, the science and practise of Psychology consists in quite a number of pigeon-holed divisions e.g. Behaviourism, Psycho-Analysis, Cognition, Perception, Humanistic psychology — to name but a few.

To study Human Learning we needed a much more integrated approach. It required a conversational approach so that a person’s behaviour and experience become part of an iterative process of individual action, reflection and review.

So the idea of M. A. P. emerged; The Meaning – Action – Perception Cycle.

Human Learning starts from the personal Meaning that we attribute for example to things, events and other people.

These Meanings lead us to Act in certain ways.

And Our Actions produce consequences in our environment; which we may or may not Perceive adequately.

Now; if we assume that our perceptions of the consequences of our actions lead to revisions in our personal meanings then we can usefully begin to describe Human Learning in terms of being a process whereby the person acts as a Conversational Scientist, testing out their models (theories) of their world by experimentation, and generating accurate feedback which enables them to progressively revise and so develop their models. So Self-Organised-Learning can be seen as analogous to Scientific Research and by carefully recording  a persons’ behaviour and then talking them back through exactly what led to this behaviour and what expectations are associated with it; we begin to see how the MAP cycle is operating.

If we now add methods for improving both the psychologists’ techniques for accurately recording behaviour and for rigorously eliciting Personal Meaning with ways of offering these back to the learner in their original form, (rather than distorting, by interpreting them) then we can begin to conduct an effective Learning Conversation.

So what is a Learning Conversation? It is a reflective, iterative process with precise form and function. It operates at three levels we called Life, Tasks and Learning-to-Learn; each of which incorporate three dialogues offering reflection on Process (the learning Activity), Support through the process of change, and exploring referents for evaluating the Quality of the changes.

Levels of Personal Meaning

One check that is built into the conversation is what we call monitoring the levels of meaning that the learner is constructing.  These improve from ‘Rote’, to ‘Coherent’ to ‘Explanatory’ which largely reflect ‘the accepted knowings’ of the day; but the fully fledged S-O-Ler’s meanings take on a different quality when they move up, first to the ‘Constructive Level’ where the S-O-Ler is putting together new meanings from their resources in the lower levels.  Every so often, either internal or external circumstances create the need for the building of a completely new pattern of meaning at what we have called the ‘Creative Level’.

As our research progressed, we have introduced the term “c-indi” (conversational individual) to handle our finding that the Learning Conversation not only works with individuals, but also with pairs and groups; and, with the necessary tools, it works for a whole organisation. Each of these entities can act as a c-indi.

But let me finish by returning to our Seventh Stage of Research.

  1. Conversational Science will require Learning Conversations, i.e. the main method of (S-O-L.) among all seekers after significant, relevant and viable shared meaning. It is important to recognise that systems theory and the idea of Self-Organising Systems means that the very idea of a thing as an independent entity is all very well to provide limited understanding in the laboratory and part of the time in everyday living; but put to use we will always discover that things are always influenced by, and influencing, other things. The wind destroys the bridge via resonance. In Einstein’s space-time continuum a change in a thing at any given place at any given time will always be composed of its parts and will always be part of other things. The human concept of a light particle is, in human experience, also a wave motion. ‘Things’ are a very helpful human concept, but in practise the nature of the thing is different in different circumstances, it is also composed of things that have the same weakness, and it is also contributing to the being of other things that relate in much the same way. Conversation between the people involved with the things at any given place and time will enable them to cope or even profit with it. But Science and many other human activities still need to become more conversational to cope with major paradigm shifts if we are to achieve Self-Organised-Living. It also requires mutually agreed stakeholder-ship for each converser. Thus  S-O-L can be seen as necessary but not sufficient for science to contribute more positively to the benefit of all of society rather than some at the expense of others. We also do things to things which change the lives of many others.

Elsewhere we have suggested five postulates for Conversational Science. These suggested how the Nature of Science might usefully be updated, but this was thirty years ago.

In exploring the Human Mind across different domains of human activity, in my view it might be very helpful to consider how our approach to the issues of Self-Organised-Learning using rigorous Learning Conversations might be of assistance. It might even discover how the idea of Conversational Science could most usefully be developed.