SOLE sounds very interesting and we can certainly see the benefits of implementing it at our school. The question is – how do we find time in our very full school schedule?

We have found that SOLE does in fact not take additional time, but can be used with great effect to spark interest among learners when a new learning topic is introduced.

All you really need to kick start SOLE is:

• A good Big Question;
• A mobile device or two for each group;
• A teacher willing to act as facilitator: and
• An open mind to let learning happen.

Furthermore, there is evidence that, because information is gathered so quickly, SOLEs can come to the aid of teachers with little time to complete a topic. For example, at the start of a topic a SOLE is a useful way of introducing the topic. It is equally useful at the end of a topic with only a week of teaching time remaining but much material to cover.

A research paper entitled “Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) in an English School: an example of transformative pedagogy?” analysed one teacher and her classes over a two-year period spanning 2009/10 and 2010/11 at a Church of England Primary School in North-East England. The teacher had this to say:

“I was absolutely stunned with what they [the students] came back with. They had practically covered the whole scheme of work in one lesson. I was totally amazed because these 8/9-year- olds were coming back with such complex information.”

The same teacher gives an example of a specific SOLE session on Vikings:

We taught the Vikings once and we hadn’t really touched on religion and I was thinking I haven’t got much time and we gave them the question ‘What did the Vikings believe about God?’ and they went off and came back with the most amazing information ever. Stuff that I didn’t know at all and they ended up having this really big debate. They found out that the Vikings weren’t necessarily fierce fighters by their nature but they had to be because they believed that if they didn’t fight and didn’t show that they were aggressive and manly that they wouldn’t go to heaven, they wouldn’t have an afterlife. So the children were starting to say things like ‘well maybe people didn’t really want to, but they had to because they had this really strong belief that if they didn’t fight for their cause to take over land that they wouldn’t have an afterlife, so maybe a lot of them weren’t really like that but they just had to pretend to be’. And I was thinking how on earth would I ever have been able to do a lesson to 8-year-olds about that massive issue in an hour? There is just no way! But they’re the kind of jewels that they comeback with and then a whole discussion started about religion–should you do everything that a religion tells you to do even if you don’t believe in it yourself but your parents do. And they were talking about the school because it’s a church school and so are there any things that they learn in school that they didn’t agree with. As a teacher I would never in a million years have planned a lesson about all of that. It would never have crossed my mind! It made them look back over the whole topic as well.

How do we know that SOLE has a positive impact on learner outcomes?

The direct answer is that we don’t (yet) know. However, this is good news.

Here’s why.

SOLE is simultaneously transformative of current teaching practices AND supportive of current curricular demands. While SOLE successfully introduces a new style of learning, it also enables the established curriculum to be covered. Because there is an element of transformation, we don’t yet know what to measure. If we use pass rates as the measure, we tacitly lend our support to the educational status quo. From what we know so far, there are far more benefits to SOLE than simply improving pass rates. That’s why we’re so excited to include a formal measurement project as part of SOLE SA’s rollout. It’s a project to fine tune the indicators and measurements related to teacher empowerment and learner outcomes.

Until we have the results, there are two things we can offer as evidence that SOLE is effective:

1. The groundswell of global interest in SOLE;

2. Feedback from educators around the world who have used SOLE for a

year or more.

Global Interest in SOLE

SOLEs have garnered international acclaim precisely because they are so innovative, and because of exciting early results.

 Sugata Mitra’s 2013 TED talk, which won a $1m grant from TED, introduced SOLE and the School in the Cloud. It has been viewed over 2.8m times on and over 400,000 times on Youtube.

 Since 2008, Mitra has been invited to deliver on average 25 keynote speeches a year to different educational practitioner and policy audiences in 27 different countries across all 5 continents.

 Newcastle University opened SOLE Central in 2014, as a global hub for research on self-organized learning. The platform is managed at the university's Culture Lab.

 There are currently 27 registered Global SOLEs and Labs (physical learning spaces, sponsored by the TED prize)*:

India Chandrakona* , Dasghara*, Goa, Gocharan*, Kalkaji*, Korakati*, Phaltan*
UK Martlesham, Newton Aycliffe*, Newcastle Upon Tyne*, SOLE Central, SOLE UK
Africa Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda
US Cleveland, Georgia, NYC
Other Argentina, Australia, Colombia, Greece, Jamaica, Japan, Khud (Pakistan), Mexico, Spain.

 As of 2016, more than 16,000 SOLE registered sessions have taken place globally.

 Over sixty major press articles have been written about the work (including New York Times, TIME, the BBC and Times of India).

This kind of attention creates a powerful discourse around SOLEs and is therefore part of the context which draws educators and parents to the SOLE concept.

Feedback from SOLE Educators

There is evidence of impact on classroom practice and student learning from schools around the world. Here are a few examples, researched and coordinated by SOLE Central.

As a result of the work of the principal of a primary school in New South Wales, Australia, this research has, reports the principal, “Influenced our pedagogy and resulted in positive changes to the teaching and learning culture in our schools and is being adopted and utilised in a growing number of schools in our region”. The principal talks of “a change in mindset in terms of how they (teachers) teach”. Examples are given of impact on students: “student enjoyment and engagement in their learning has increased” and as a result “classroom misbehaviours are virtually non-existent during SOLE learning”.

The principal has promoted this model of learning at numerous conferences in both Australia and New Zealand. As a result, he reports, “a variety of schools from different settings are now enthusiastically trialling SOLE”. The primary school is now recognised as a pioneer of self-organised learning. As a result, the school attracts a continuous flow of visitors from other schools across Australia. The principal has been approached by the largest school region in New South Wales to lead a SOLE strategy across the region and provide training.

The Director of`21st Century Schools, a US based education company specialising in professional staff development and curriculum design, has shared research on SOLE to 25,000 subscribers globally. She has been inspired to study SOLEs in greater depth, altering her materials and processes inline with the ideas of SOLEs, telling many others about SOLEs. She notes: “At 21st Century Schools we believe that Dr. Mitra’s work is invaluable, and we see it as fulfilling of our vision and mission to promote his research to as many people as possible, especially educators.”

The Curriculum Leader for Design and Art at a High School (North Tyneside, UK) states: “the impact has been huge…whole school CPD is being developed on SOLE and interwoven into our school priorities”. This leader has set up a network group to share practice across schools and promotes SOLE through presentations and Twitter. She says: “The biggest impact has been…the learning that is achieved is outstanding and the levels of attainment much higher than groups that are taught traditionally.”

A classroom teacher who regularly used SOLEs between 2009-11, with a Year 4 classroom (8/9yrs) in an urban North East England primary school, in partnership with university researchers Dolan, Mitra and Leat described the impact on her teaching. A diary kept for a year (2010) evidences in detail the positive impact over time on her teaching practice, leading her to become more reflective, more able to see all her pupils as “learners”. She said: “I was able to see how the students would choose to learn without any input from me. It’s more representative of what they’re like. You feel like you know them a little bit better. They’re more themselves, there’s less pressure on them to perform, to do what they think I want them to do… It makes you think about how to operate in other lessons, like if you need to be ‘on the case’ all the time. It makes you think about why you teach in a certain style…It raises your expectations of what they’re able to do without your help. You can relinquish more control…It makes you reflect on your practice. You think about how you present non-SOLE lessons, how much time you give them to talk, how much time you give them to follow their own learning, how much structure is necessary.

The Director of Arts at a High School, Durham, said Skype in the classroom implemented by Leat and Lofthouse (lecturer, 2003-on-going) had: “huge impact on the development of a new facility which can be accessed by the school and the community. The particular teachers involved have been amazed at some of the findings and have been surprised at students handing in high quality work a lot earlier than requested due to their interest and engagement during this research.

An Ofsted report on Middlestone Moor Primary School, Durham, UK cited SOLE as evidence of good practice in 2012.

External Mentions & References

What are the benefits of SOLE?

There are many skills children acquire naturally through taking part in a SOLE:

Collaboration and Communication skills: students being able to organize their thoughts, data and findings and share these effectively through a variety of media, as well as orally and in writing.

Creativity and Innovation skills: students being able to generate and refine solutions to complex problems or tasks based on synthesis, analysis and then combining or presenting what they have learned in new and original ways.

Critical Thinking skills: students being able to analyse complex problems, investigate questions for which there are no clear-cut answers, evaluate different points of view or sources of information, and draw appropriate conclusions based on evidence and reasoning.

Self-direction skills: students being able to take responsibility for their learning by identifying topics to pursue and processes for their own learning and being able to review their own work and respond to feedback.

Global and Local Connections: students being able to understand global, geo-political issues including awareness of geography, culture, language, history, and literature from other countries.

Technological Fluency: students being able to manage their learning and produce products using appropriate information and communication technologies.

Based on a framework collated by Ravitz, J., Hixson, N., English, M., & Mergendoller, J. (2012). “Using project based learning to teach 21st century skills: Findings from a statewide initiative.” Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Conference, Vancouver, Canada. For more information on 21st Century Skills see also

Sugata Mitra is not an educator. What recognition has he received for his work?

The 2013 TED prize is evidence of substantial international impact. According to TED Director Lara Stein: “The TED Prize is a forward-looking prize, and we award it to individuals who have demonstrated significant achievement that the prize wish can build on. Sugata has not only created a remarkable body of research around self-directed learning, but he has support from teachers around the world who are tapping into his methodology with great success.”

Mitra has other awards for the impact of his research on schools. In 2011 Learning Without Frontiers awarded Mitra its Special Achievement Award “to an individual who has, in the opinion of the judges, had the most impact during 2010 on radically improving learning or positively disrupting traditional methodologies through the use of affordable, disruptive technologies”.

In 2011 Mitra was awarded the Klingenstein Leadership Award for his current research, which “is leading toward an alternative primary education, using self-organized learning, mediation, and assessment environments”.

In 2012 Mitra was awarded the Advanced Global Educator Award (2012), which “is presented to individuals who have demonstrated unparalleled leadership in promoting and advancing excellence in global and international education”.

Why is SOLE important? Isn’t there sufficient education reform already underway?

From the SOLE Toolkit:

“To prepare for the realities of the future workplace and the rapidly changing technological landscape, it is critical for educators to invite learners to get good at asking big questions that lead them on intellectual journeys to pursue answers, rather than only memorizing facts… The SOLE mind-set is transformative. Children have the ability to think critically and can learn astonishingly quickly.”

Innovation is a thorny topic in educational policy, as the school system – in South Africa and globally – seems remarkably resistant to change. This is the finding of Seymour B. Sarason, professor emeritus of psychology in the Department of Psychology at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University.

According to Tyack and Cuban in Tinkering Toward Utopia, there is a ‘grammar of schooling’, reflecting patterns of teaching, which is hard to shift. So despite a continued barrage of educational reform in many advanced economies, which are often structural in nature or related to assessment regimes, change can be an illusion.

SOLE is simultaneously transformative of current teaching practices AND supportive of current curricular demands. While SOLE successfully introduces a new style of learning, it also enables the established curriculum to be covered. The achievement of both objectives (transformation and support) is important, while education reformers grapple with the evolution of education. SOLE is an effective grass-roots learning methodology that can be introduced without changing the education curriculum.

The Custodians of Future Fit Learning





SOLE South Africa powers a cradle to career edtech platform to enable parents and teachers to facilitate Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs).

The Big Questions asked during SOLE sessions spark creativity, curiosity and wonder in learners and inspire them to take control of their own learning, while cultivating innovation for a more sustainable future.


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