Prof. Don Bannister

Sheila and Laurie’s creation of S-O-L performs a kindly, necessary and powerful act: it rehabilitates the concept of learning.

The long decades of Behaviourism in psychology promoted ‘learning’ to the status of a dominant concept but defined it in a way which made it repressive when applied to education and unfruitful when used in psychological theorising and ·research. The idea of learning as consisting of essentially mechanical changes in task performance, brought about by practice, is characterised by that most fatal of flaws in an idea: it is uninteresting and indeed wrong. Trying to give life to this central notion of learning by attaching to it half-defined bits and pieces – ideational learning, incidental learning, selective learning, learning set, discriminative learning and so forth – helped keep boredom at bay but failed to provide us with a pathway for exploring and understanding human experience in terms of ‘learning’. The human subject remained a pale and shadowy figure, lost between the stimulus (as defined by the psychologist) and the response (as defined by the psychologist); an ‘organism’ without self-possessed point or purpose.

Thomas and Harri-Augstein would acknowledge forebears in offering a dynamic vision of learning, Fred Bartlett for one, but their particular contribution, in this book, is vividly to redefine learning in terms of the way we elaborate structures of meaning and to offer rich tools to aid that elaboration. The tools which they offer are not only brilliant techniques but represent operational definitive’s of creative learning. Many of them are imaginative developments of repertory grid method, as originally offered by George Kelly, and in developing it they have substantially extended our understanding of what can be done with the computer, by way of using it not simply as a galloping abacus but as a reflective companion.

Prof. Don Bannister, MRC External Scientific Staff,
High Royds Hospital, Ilkley


Dr. David Fontana

In their challenging book the authors offer a radical approach to personal and organisational growth. Their new science of human learning uses reflective procedures called Learning Conversations to enable individuals of all ages, backgrounds and disciplines to become more aware of their own learning processes, to challenge the robots within, and those personal myths which often disable them as learners. By self-organising their learning they achieve insights resulting in improved attitudes and outcomes in study and work, greater personal confidence and innovativeness, and an enhanced capacity to learn.

Dr. David Fontana, Reader in Educational Psychology


Professor Rom Harre

Learning Conversations is a significant contribution to the theory and practice of Human Learning as this is being conversationally reconstructed within the new psychology which is now clearly emerging in various forms in many different parts of the world.

Professor Rom Harre, Oxford University

Professor Gordon Pask

As the founder of cybernetic ‘Conversation Theory’, I commend Sheila Harri-Augstein and Laurie Thomas’s recent book, Learning Conversations, as an important and significant work to be widely read. They have added to, and independently innovated along, congruent although phrased-in-their-own-metaphor directions.

Professor Gordon Pask,
System Research Ltd, Richmond, Surrey

Users of Self-Organised Learning


Sir Bryan Nicholson

We often mistakenly regard the identification of our learning needs as the responsibility of our teacher, trainer or manager. Self-Organised Learning not only offers each of us the opportunity of recognising and structuring such needs for ourselves but enables us to adaptively construct strategies for fulfilling these effectively. The S-O-L system has enabled individuals and teams to improve their skills and competencies, and to approach the changing nature of their jobs and tasks with great confidence and motivation. It has already produced very encouraging results in the Post Office, assisting in progress towards higher productivity.

Sir Bryan Nicholson, Chairman, Post Office,
and Chairman, CBI Educational Training Affairs Committee

Andrew Taylor

This commentary is a record of my professional search for a management model which will harness the full capabilities of people in organisations to the achievement of the organisations’ goals. This search has taken place in the context of the Post Office in which I have spent my working life. The key event in this search was my introduction to Self-Organised Learning (S-O-L) in 1984, during the Centre for the Study of Human Learning’s
S-O-L action research project on supervisory and managerial effectiveness.

Andrew Taylor, Mails Manager
Royal Mail Sorting Office, Reading

A Senior Supervisor

For most of my lifelong career in the Post Office I had to learn the hard way. By the time I was a senior planning manager with special responsibility for training, I was given the opportunity to develop more skills and I became a S-O-L Coach. In many ways this transformed my life and how I did my job. I experienced many ‘Learning Conversations’ and over a period of two years I kept a diary of my thoughts and feelings as I practiced S-O-L on the job. Extracts from this diary are reproduced below for the benefit of trainers and managers who may want to find out more about S-O-L.    

A Senior Supervisor
Royal Mail Sorting Office, Reading