This website and we in the Centre for the Study of Human Learning behind it, are committed to the idea, that each and every member of a democracy needs to learn how to become more self-organised. Only as we learn to become more fully responsible for who and what we are, at each stage of our own development, can we begin to participate more adequately in our shared responsibilities with and to others.
This process of S-O-L (Self-Organised-Learning) is very different from the, often unconscious, ideas of education which require that ‘learners’ submit to being taught. The result of much ‘seemingly successful’ education, as it is now organised for us, is the production of Other-Organised-Learners. As previous students, many teachers will recognise the feeling that one only really begins to properly understand a subject when one tries to teach it to others; i.e. when the other organised understanding you have received has to be self organised so that you can sensibly present it to others. How much better if the understanding had been used and self-organised in the first place.
Many, probably most teachers in primary, secondary, and the many forms of tertiary education, apprenticeships and on the job training; do have ‘the best interests’ of their ‘learners’ at heart. But, they mostly have the traditional view of teaching, and operate within organisations that accept, indeed embody, the idea that their learners are the ‘consumers of education’. And their students become consumers of teaching, who feel, or their parents or employers feel, that they can hold the teacher responsible for what they come to know or don’t know. Many, if not most learners see themselves as ‘consumers of expert knowledge’ rather than as the ‘first-line workers’ in the production of their own personal and personally evaluated understanding, however this may honestly relate to the ideas of the experts.
The, to us, dangerous idea that ‘the expert always knows best’ is seemingly confirmed by the existence of a national curriculum and the requirements of most Professional Societies, almost all of which impose an ‘expert’ view of the correct knowledge on the teacher and thus on their students. In addition the process of external examinations further removes responsibility for what should be learned away from the teacher and the learner. This is not to deny that many groups of experts do have useful, well tried and tested knowledge; and we may wish to join them. But this is, and should be seen to be, very different from having learned how to learn, knowing what you now want to know and how to evaluate it: and being able to learn other ideas and skills better, faster and more thoroughly in the future.
The idea of other-organised education in which people submit to being taught, is well suited to peoples (shorter-term?) needs within a feudal or dictatorial system. But when the consumers of education have the right, indeed the obligation, to chose those who will temporarily govern them, each needs the personally acquired ability to understand which people are right for them; and the personally developed and tested judgement to evaluate their ‘governors’ performance; both before, whilst, and after, they are in office.
As members of a democracy we have, each of us, the primary responsibility for what we know, how we understand what we know, how we feel about it, why we feel like that, and what we then do about it. For those who are willing to try S-O-L, an adequate education will not be judged by how well its consumers know, and are able to do what they have been taught. A more adequate education enables its members to become more self-organised, become S-O-Lers who have chosen, and are increasingly better able to choose what they do, and what they make of their own experience.
They are free and able to choose what experiences they expose themselves to; and yet they value the scope and variety of opportunities to which they are unwittingly exposed despite the choices they make.
For education to work in this way ‘teaching’ becomes fully “CONVERSATIONAL”. The teacher becomes responsible for ‘enabling the learner’ This is why, even within the constraints of other-organised education, certain teachers stand out and are remembered for much more than the knowledge they were meant to be transmitting. In this context the word ‘conversation’ takes on a special, perhaps even specialised, meaning. It goes far beyond everyday chitchat.
This conversation goes beyond just an exchange of words. Here, two people are trying to exchange personal meaning. Personal meaning pervades each individual’s whole person; well beyond what they know. It includes what they would see, less or more clearly as their ‘experience’. All each can do is to represent, re-present, their personal meaning to the other. All that each can do is to make what they can of the others representations. This is always the case. But when both seriously want to converse, this process of making full personal sense of what the other is trying to convey, becomes a process of careful and open testing out, during which each is representing their meaning and exposing their understanding of the other, to the other. This is currently an unusual experience. But, it is a necessary condition for personal learning to take place. And this personal learning is hardly ever one-way.
This view of close personal communication is a necessary condition for what we have here called a ‘Learning Conversation’. This is almost the opposite to what is often seen as effective instruction.
So, the teacher becomes responsible for “enabling the learner” and in doing so they are also enabled.
And so, we could all be enabled to freely choose:-
- What we learn
- How we learn it
- How we evaluate the Quality of this learning.
- The new opportunities this learning opens to us
- Each learning experience as another opportunity to better learn how to learn
- How all this fits into an intermittent ‘Life Conversation’ with ourselves.
- When, how and why we make our experience available to others.
S-O-L (Self-Organised-Learning) becomes a way of living. It is on-going, each of us is continually enabled to conduct a more effective Learning Conversation with ourselves. We learn how to value, but evaluate, each and every expert that we meet and invite to teach us. And in return we conversationally offer them our personal understanding of what they offer, so that they may learn from our mistakes, from our successes, and from our new insights which may hinder, or help them on their way.
So may we become able to make democracy work for us. And in doing so we may gain a glimpse of what may really be involved in enabling others to move towards their own more democratic societies. Whilst the dictator uses physical means to restrain the free spirited, we have yet to free ourselves completely from the remaining chains of the knowledge tyrants; and in so doing enable others to do the same.