Most controllers of learning, who in the short explanation we have called the TCs (i.e. teachers, trainers, tutors and therapists – coaches, counsellors, custodians and consultants) start by knowing the right answer (or what they have come to accept that to be) – and the job of the learner is to find the correct way to convince the TC that they have understood their message.

S-O-L uses a completely different approach to learning. What is to be learned and how it is to be learned, is the responsibility of the learner. The job of the TC now becomes that of enabling the learner to seek out and recognise what they need to know: and then to help the learner to develop their learning skills so that they become ever more effective at learning whatever they decide to learn. In the diagram shown below we are introducing the learner to the idea that learning is about the creation of personally relevant and viable meaning. In this diagram we show that such personal Meaning always leads to Action of some kind which produces a consequence which can be Perceived by the learner. Sometimes the Action is totally within the learner, and the whole process is one of thinking, or perhaps one should call it conversing with one’s self. At least as often the Actions made by the body are intended to produce consequences in the outside world, for which the S-O-Ler creates a Perceptual Set; that is they anticipate a particular set of consequences of their Actions.

This general cycle of personal Meaning, Action, and Perceptual checking of the results, we have called the MAP cycle. The action can be conversation, or any other form of physical activity which is intended to produce a result. This whole process may go on completely within the S-O-Ler’s mind or it can be anything in the outside world; from creating things to conversing or performing; e.g. dancing, acting, etc, etc. When looking at human activity in this way, the consequences of the intending S-O-Ler carefully Perceiving the results, is as important as the quality of the Actions which are produced by their personal Meaning.


This MAP view of human activity makes it easier to see the difference between the type of Personal Meaning which may result from aiming to get the right answer in any traditional TC situation, in contrast to developing one’s own understanding as this operates in the one’s own life situation.

Each effective piece of S-O-L starts with clarification of the learners PERSONAL LEARNING CONTRACT. This is different from accepting the TCs view of what is to be learned.

Each PLC is a CONTRACT that the S-O-Ler makes with themselves.

In most of our projects the intending S-O-Lers find that many of their ideas and feelings about their learning capabilities are fixed and therefore difficult to develop. Over and over again they will feel that they cannot do what they intend, their ability to learn has become fixed and they give up. In our early projects we often found that the learner felt unable to organise their own learning. In the 1960s and 1970s (when Robots were in a much earlier stage of development) we came to call this ‘Robotish Activity’, and the learners were faced with Challenging their Robot. The following diagram illustrates what we have called the three dialogue approach to “challenging the robot”.

The three dialogues are:

1. Process
2. Support
3. Quality

By which we mean that the learner should talk themselves through the Process as they are currently doing it, in order to become sufficiently aware in a very detailed way, so that they can develop their method to produce an improved Quality in the results they were achieving. Very often the learner found that raising the awareness of the process disrupted their current level of skill, and in fact as the diagram shows that there was often a drop in the Learning Curve. We found ourselves Supporting them through this drop in the learning curve and beginning to get them to recognise how they might produce the quality of performance they were aiming at. The PLC uses these three dialogues, describing the Process, Supporting them through the drop in the learning curve, and clearly understanding the Quality of performance they were aiming to produce. Together these dialogues enabled them to successfully awaken their robot into awareness, challenge it, and so become a more effective learner. Whilst in the earlier stages we had to help the learner, both to become aware of what they were doing and explain to themselves what better would be, we had to also to provide support for as long as the budding S-O-Ler need edit for them to be able to overcome the temporary disintegration of their existing level of skill; once they recognised that their need for support was only temporary they became increasingly able to support themselves through the process of change.

Note to all TCs: It is the need for this initial support that leaves those not receiving it disabled: often for life.

Again in our early projects we came to recognise that a more complete understanding of the MAP idea could be best illustrated in terms of something like playing a Tennis match; where it is easy to see that the hierarchy of MAPs can at its smallest level apply to individual Tennis strokes which combine into achieving a Point, and the Points building into a Game, and the Games into a Set and the Sets combine to make a Match. All activities can be broken down into similar hierarchies of separable parts which combine into larger units which eventually come together into achieving the whole task. When the learner finds themselves in difficulties, breaking the task into smaller sections allows them to successfully achieve section by section. Then they can gradually recombine these sections bit by bit, into achieving their whole purpose. But, at each stage, this is not just a linear process. As each group of smaller parts combine into a recognisable whole, they do not just add together; the relationships between the parts adds greater meaning to the group. This is why the combination is always a hierarchy rather than just a linear sequence.

So the budding S-O-Ler can use the MAP idea to develop a feel for the way in which they can develop their Personal Meaning so that their actions allow them to perceive what they deem to be a successful outcome of operation aliasing the meaning. The MAP hierarchies idea, enables the learner to break up the learning task into achievable parts, that can then be re-combined together to achieve their whole learning purpose.

Finally, the idea of the Learning Conversation enabled us to launch the whole S-O-L enterprise.

As we shall see, the MAP analysis of personal meaning may start with the idea of the PLC which is task-focussed, but as a sequence of PLCs grows the budding S-O-Ler inevitably begins to become aware that they are also beginning ask questions about the very process of Learning itself. This introduces another series of questions about how Learning-to-Learn can itself also become Self-Organised.

Finally, and indeed from the start, there is also always an ongoing Life or Relevance Conversation about how S-O-L relates their learning to the process of living their life; and how they begin, and indeed continue, to see and indeed plan that life’s development.