Many of our projects have involved introducing S-O-L into organisations, for example, the Admiralty Marine Technology Establishment, Kellogg’s, St. Martin’s College of Art and the Royal Mail. In particular our seven year project with the Royal Mail (1980-1990s) 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 S-O-L Coaches and the whole Learning Process. In many of the Royal Mail Sorting Office; the PEB (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 it was suggested that the conversation between this ‘Opportunities Manager’ and the Learning Coaches was expanding the Learning Horizons of the office.

The Coach

The S-O-L Coaches need a ‘Learning Manager’

As S-O-L is introduced into an organisation, individual sections begin to recognise how useful it is to have an S-O-L coach selected from among themselves. As this spreads from department to department the need for a manager of the S-O-L coaches rapidly becomes apparent. We often found that each department values having their own coach chosen from among them. Often this job has been rotated among supervisors and other senior members of the department.

The need for a Manager of the Coaches often appears when the organisation discovers that the existing S-O-Lers find it useful the meet with each other. As they share their experiences they recognise the need for further training and resources. We gradually developed Systems-7 as our experience in different organisations revealed the variety of ways in which the coaches found it useful to co-operate and share their experiences.

The Learning Conversation

As the job of the Sol coach is created within an organisation it usually becomes successful enough to call for a number of Coaches. As we have moved from one organisation to another over time, we have gradually developed the idea of what we came to call Systems-7. This was the way in which we gradually enabled a number of organisations to decide to make S-O-L coaching a permanent contribution to their organisation. What we show below is how the Coach was able to develop what we call ‘The Learning Domain’, which enabled them to make more effective use of their expertise. Gradually as we introduced this into one place after another we found the Royal Mail asking us whether we could introduce this across the whole country. This made us settle down to clarify exactly how our various projects had used S-O-L and exactly what it was that we should introduce into the wide variety of regional Head Post Offices. We developed and used the diagram below to systematise the increasing use the Post Office made of our ideas.

The Self-Organised Learner (S-O-Ler)

The Learner

As we have discovered in many organisations, the process of training newcomers and keeping them up-to-date is often seen as quite a time-consuming task; also many people within an organisation either feel neglected or in need of more attention particularly if they are being blamed for the way they are doing their job. The way we have developed S-O-L seems to have dealt quite effectively with such problems.

The Coach

The S-O-L Coach is central to idea of enabling people to overcome their work problems by becoming a more effective learner. The way we had developed coaching in our academic research enabled us to re-define the job of the training department and as it changed to S-O-L it seemed to become much more welcomed by both learners and their managers.

Learning Manager

As we began to work with fairly large organisations we discovered that the S-O-L coaches needed both help and resources. The idea of the Learning Manager developed as the coaches became members of their particular departments or sections of the organisation but we still found them in need of advice and support from the centre.

Opportunities Manager

In around three quarters of the many regional Royal Mail Sorting Offices that we had worked with, a manager or senior supervisor has become interested and involved in what we were doing. This often led to them developing ways in which they could increase and enhance the learning opportunities of their more junior colleagues; and they began to suggest ideas about how the opportunities for learning could be expanded and developed. This eventually led to the idea of them becoming a part-time ‘Opportunities Manager’.

In many of our earlier projects we separately introduced the idea of S-O-L into various sections/departments. As we were faced with the need to explain and discuss exactly how we suggested that S-O-L might be introduced we developed the idea of Systems-7, first we introduced it into being one of our NATO papers; and then we realised that some such organisational structure was the more effective way of introducing S-O-L into a business. Early on, we often had problems, if we introduced it into only a part of the organisation without developing an overall strategy. The diagram of Systems-7 became increasingly useful when were asked to explain exactly how S-O-L might be introduced within new projects. The MAP, PLC and MAR4S ideas proved to be effective methods for actually putting Systems-7 into practice.

How Systems-7 incorporates S-O-L

As we have explained in the earlier sections the MAP idea has enabled both us and the people we have worked with to use it as the basis for them to gradually develop their learning capacity.

The PLC has been the basis for making the job of learning explicit. We have asked the learner to define the Purpose of their learning then to plan their Strategy and decide what they expected to be their Outcomes. Then before starting we ask them to Review this whole process.

We developed MAR4S as a way of reviewing our learning and research activities; however those we worked with, both our researchers and our clients began to ask what this “MARSing” was all about.   Eventually we recognised that this systematic method of Reflecting upon what was going on was also an effective learning technique.


We have found that people often find it difficult to understand Systems-7. So we have decided to present and explain the SEVEN SYSTEMS, one each on the following pages.

Each system is introduced by highlighting it against the background of the full diagram.

The first system, System-1, shows the Learner using the resources as offered by the organisation to Learn and Develop in their job. Quite often we have found that the learner is generally reluctant to seek help. So we have explained that it is the whole organisation and even beyond that is the effective Learning Domain within which the nature of his or her job can be properly explored and developed.


As we introduce Self-Organised Learning we have asked the organisation to select some experienced people as temporary S-O-L Learning Coaches. The Coach observes and investigates the processes being used by the Learner(s) and then begins a S-O-L Learning Conversation with them about how they might go about developing their understanding and performance. So System-2 becomes the main means by which the learner is supported and helped to develop.

The MAP, the PLC and the MAR4S. become central tools which are used to enable the Learner to challenge whatever it is that is preventing them from fully developing their understanding of what is going on.


When System-1 and System-2 are in place some business supervisors and managers often become interested and find themselves developing and supporting their domain in ways that offer assistance to the Coaches and the Learners.


As a business manager becomes interested in S-O-L, they naturally enter into discussion with the S-O-L Coach; and over and over again we have found that this goes beyond helping the learners to realising that the whole way in which the work is being done can be improved. So System-4 often becomes the vehicle by which items in the Suggestions Box begin to taken more and more seriously. We have often been surprised by the ways in which ideas that had been previously rejected or ignored are now being taken more and more seriously.


As senior management begin to recognise the impact that S-O-L is having on the performance of their employees they usually begin to become interested and involved. To both learn from the S-O-L Coaches and to enable them to become more and more effective an S-O-L Learning Manager is appointed. In the Post Office for example this was often either the Mails Manager themselves or the Senior Supervisor.

Over a period, the meeting of the Learning Manager with his S-O-L Coaches often became a two-way system in which the manager provided direction and resources whilst the Learning Coaches brought clear and useful ideas about how the work, in particular the paperwork of the organisation might be developed and improved.


As the Learning Manager becomes involved with the work of the Learning Coaches they also begin to discuss how the business works with the Opportunities Manager. This has been found to be a very productive means of research and development. This was particularly true in Kellogg’s, in the Admiralty Research Establishment and Clark’s (Shoes) at their Factory in Street, Somerset.


One of the developments which we least expected, came about in quite a number of our projects; where the Systems-7 activities began to have an impact on the whole way in which all types of communication seemed to improve and develop. This was partly due to the fact that the Coaches, in particular, found themselves talking with people in various points of the organisation with whom they had previously had little to do. On two or three occasions, in particular; when we were reporting the results of our projects we began to get into discussions about who and why people were Stakeholders in the organisation. One of our students became quite deeply involved in the question of who were the stakeholders in the Building Society that he had been invited to study.

We also discovered that different countries have quite different views about who, when and which people have the right to a say in how the whole organisation is run.