Crossing the road safely, riding a bicycle, solving quadratic equations, using a lathe, writing a novel or even winning a gold medal at the Olympics are all essentially Task Level activities. However, for most people much of the time many of such familiar activities become what in the 1960s and ’70s we called Robotish. By this we meant anything so well practised that it does not now involve detailed consciousness. Trying to become ‘better’ at such activities often disrupts the existing process; and people feel so threatened that they are not able to continue. So they accept their current practice as the limits of their ability. The S-O-L Task Level Learning Conversation enables them to ‘Challenge Their Task Robots’; and so frees them to develop fuller and more self-organised ways of being, doing and living.


Once you become fairly familiar with, and able, to ‘Challenge your Task Robots’ you become more andmore interested in how you achieve this. That is you become interested in How You Learn. With the cooperation of your S-O-L Coach, you have accepted the fact that much of what you had previously unquestioningly accepted as the limits of your task skills are being expanded. So gradually you begin to realise that you are not as quite as limited as you have always accepted. You begin to see that how you learn is also partly a question of skills. That is, you realise that you may be able to question and investigate How You Learn. Your S-O-L Coach opens up the ‘Learning to Learn’ level of the Learning Conversation.



As you become a Day-by-Day and Week-by-Week Self-Organised-Learner you will almost inevitably begin to wonder where all this is leading you. You begin to see possibilities that had never occurred to you before.

The third level of the S-O-L Learning Conversation takes this up, in what we have come to call the Life or Relevance Learning Conversation. S-O-L Coach after S-O-L Coach has been faced with more and more persistent requests to discuss the personal implications for the budding S-O-Ler of their ability to learn both differently and more effectively.

As with the Red Indians and their Elders, it is at this level of S-O-L that life-long experience finds its real value and the insights that the older Coaches have experienced, becomes valued by many around them.


Once the learner has experienced the full three levels of the Learning Conversation, they gradually become more and more able to carry on the Learning Conversation with themselves. Quite often they find this quite worrying and need a period during which the experienced coaches continue to support them with their difficulties; without going back to being responsible for guiding the Whole Learning Conversation. The skills for this are best learned in what we have called the next stage. It is here when the S-O-Lers gradually begin to accept the responsibility of becoming their own coach: and will almost unwittingly begin to act as unacknowledged S-O-L Coach to those around them. This not only helps the others but also expands their own understanding of the full implications of the inner Learning Conversation.


Reasonably skilled S-O-Lers often begin to work together to support the effectiveness of their Learning Conversations. In many of our projects, including one in Mexico, we found that whilst we were conducting our seminars with a group of university staff, we began as usual, to suggest that they work in three’s: one acting as Learner, the second as S-O-L Coach and the third as Observer of the S-O-L Coaching process. They conducted their three person Learning Conversations in Spanish, of which we had very little. But we were initially surprised to find that by observing what was going on we were still well able to support and encourage them by only following the flow of the conversations without appreciating the words. This was unsaught evidence for the importance of the myriad of unspoken meanings that are present and involved in effective learning whenever and where-ever it takes place.


Many of our projects have involved introducing S-O-L into organisations, for example, the Admirality Marine Technology Establishment, Kellogs, and the Royal Mail. In particular our seven year project with the Post Offices enabled us to develop what we came to call Systems 7.

This introduced the idea of the ‘Learning Manager’ who is responsible for developing and supervising the SOL Coaches and the whole Learning Process.   In many of the Post Offices; the P.E.B (Senior Supervisor) began to find ways in which they could offer better Learning Opportunities to the more junior members of the office. In our seminars we began to call the developers of this process, the Opportunities Manager and suggested that the conversations between this OM and the Learning Coaches was expanding the Learning Horizons of the office.


In CSHL itself we began to find that our students and our research assistants began to meet and co-operate in different groups depending on the variety of task activities that were going on and also the aspects of S-O-L in which they were currently most involved. As a group we gradually began to use the term; the S-O-L Society for the effective ways in which we co-operated together. To Sheila and Laurie, it had become clear that society as a whole could eventually find this a more democratic and effective way of conducting its Living, Working and Leisure activities.

Note to Visitors

We originally developed the idea of the Seven Levels of Theory Building when in the late 1980’s we were asked to produce a paper for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) and we spent a hectic fortnight converting our emerging ideas into a semi-coherent paper. In this we summarised what we then called the Seven Levels and produced “a ‘Harvard Graphics’ produced diagram” to represent each level. In those early hectic days, our ideas were not even as clear as they are now gradually becoming.

However, in the process of publishing our Learning Conversations book, we sent our diagrams to the publishers, who passed these on to their graphic artists. These re-interpreted and compressed our seven levels into three diagrams which rather lost one our seven levels in the process.

Whilst what we now offer is rather different: We have tried to reproduce the original diagrams in the following pages for purposes of continuity. We offer the six diagrams that were compressed, which we now have recovered from the three in the book.