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Bad, Good, If I, We Should... These simple notions hold the clue to forming self-organising learning communities.

Inspired by The Universal Traveller, compatible with The Five Stage Model, this simple notion could empower self-organised learning anywhere

Photo of Denis O'Brien
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Written by

I am a.....

  • Retired Ergonomist.

Tell us about your idea

In the 70's I read The Universal Traveler  by Dan Koberg and Jim Bagnall and, as an Ergonomist, simplified it to four simple ideas. Bad, Good, If I, We Should ...

(What follows is a distilled version of my longer (more rambling) version which is attached.)

When any learning challenge had to be faced these thinking tools helped me reimagine every aspect of my personal and professional life. They helped me steer my career, helped me raise my four children, and helped me with the administration and organization of adopting our fifth. It helped me conceive new design methodologies. 

In the final phase of my career they helped me educate MBA students and externally examine four MA Design courses. 

I never had the chance to influence the mainstream education sector so I never had to upend any established system. 

They even helped me design the Security Control Room at The Bank of England!

In my attachment, I've explained how a teacher could organise a learning together culture and I've outlined the elements of a learning together platform. I've also floated an intergenerational idea which could introduce grandchildren to the grandparents of their friends (or vice versa) and help both learn. 

The technique is compatible with The 5 stage model conceived my Prof Gilly Salmon at The Center for Educational Futures at The University of Western Australia. This Approach sees the student at the center of the learning process. Her video is attached  

How it could work in a traditional classroom?

The notions are embedded into simple Prompts which are completed in silence by the student. The answers are shared. 

For Example: A set of Prompts about Maths. Q1-3 are completed in silence. 

Q1, I find maths hard to learn because ... 

Q2, I find maths easy to learn because ...

Q3, My ideal way of learning maths would be to ...

Q4 Our ideal way of learning maths would be to ...

If 30 children answered the first two prompts with three answers and one answer to Q3, 210 perspectives would be gained. Maybe five groups of 6 students would agree on their answer to Q4  Imagine how a flexible teacher could facilitate their learning. 

Imagine if, after a suitable interval, they evaluate their progress via a new set of prompts.

Q1. I'm not confident about my progress because ...

Q2. I am confident about my progress because ... 

Q3. To continue to improve I'd like to focus on ...

Q4. We should ... 

A traditionalist would ask the question 'Who is running the class?'. But does that matter? We, that is the teacher and the students are working together!

If Covid continues, children who live in the same street could answer the prompts, share them with buddies either locally or internationally and then work with their Buddy to learn. Parents could monitor, support and facilitate learning without getting too involved with the subject knowledge. 


The essential idea is disruptive because it enables freedom of speech. 

Goals, targets, plans, ambitions, freedoms, the world is going to create a new normal. Gone are the old goals, the old targets, the old ambitions. Freedom will remain but it will be a new freedom with the old certainties removed. Limitations will remain but they will too will be different. 

Before the pandemic we thought we knew where we where but now we need a thinking and planning language which enables each of us, young and old to shape our future based on our new values, judgements and priorities. The shared yet individually experienced reaction to the virus gives a new perspective to our attitudes, demands, desires. 

The simple activity of privately bringing to mind the bad, good aspects of anything sets the mind up to combine them in a novel, realistic, yet aspirational way. Within the bubble of our silent thinking we conceive a way of going forward which suits our new situation. It's more powerful when done in sync: real time: each inventive mind capturing prompted thoughts. 

When these are shared with a close student or fellow inventor the first steps of a change is brought to mind. Combine again and again in a consultative style and you start to define the characteristics of the new normal. 

The early adopters to our new normal will use their natural creativity to invent and conceive their new normal but the enlightened agencies will look for a simple system to bridge this new devide: this learning together culture is one. 

Privileged children are being taught creativity and entrepreneurship  This simple tool creates a level playing field with other people. Its a language and a process that can inspire any joint endeavour across previous barriers. 

I modeled my rhythm on the foundations of Barn Dancing where, turn taking, pair work and small circles lead to full engagement at the plenary level. The teacher can be viewed as ‘The Caller’!

I’m proposing an educative environment which has a clear purpose and it achieves this by helping individual students get together to form a self organising learning community. 

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

In my view, learning happens when student are engaged and when they have a hand in how they learn. The educational system has evolved into what it is and some inspired teachers and school administrators have shown courage in experimenting with new approaches. Evolution not revolution is needed. It is strange however that time is not spent in nurturing the students ownership of the learning process. Ideally I like the Heurtagogic concept of self directed learning but humans are social beings and few could go it alone. Why not honestly share value judgements, opinions and ideas with others to chart the best way forward. There will always be a role for objective evaluation against some set of criteria and the teacher is still needed to assist achievement but travelling along the road together is better than one leading and the rest following like sheep. In any case Covid19 has given everyone a glimpse of a new normal!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

I’m 73 and I’ve been using the essence of these ideas all my adult life. I decided when I was in my early 20's that I was going to invent inventing procedures. I didn't know anything about the word Creativity so I got my local library to order a whole series of books written by experts. I read and read and I used every opportunity that came my way to experiment. I simplified every process so that everybody could contribute their experience. I once was asked to Design and run some brainstormes on Blowing your Nose for an international tissue company. This process was my go to answer every time I faced a difficult situation. If it helped me it's time to pass it on to others. 

What region are you located in?

  • Europe

Where are you located?

I live in Greater London.
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Attachments (6)


Once you open the doors to communication students start being honest!


I opened myself to feedback ... Read the final piece of advice and look at the next photo for the drawing and comment.


The technique in use to inspire a drawing


The more we graft together the more we craft together


In this Open University tutorial we were designing a student lead tutorial. The iterations are outlined but the goal was two fold: design the event but experience a self organizing process.

Getting to the new normal and beyond.docx

This document explains, as best I can, the essence of my idea.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Oliver Fabian Avila Tamayo

Denis, I was reading and understanding your idea deeply. I think it is really really great. Actually this kind of things are the most important but anyone teach us at school.

I have some similars ideas. I will put it on paper and share to you. At the end what we are doing is to design little techniques to evolutionate the counsciousnes. I think it has to be the main focus of education. I mean, everybody says to you... concentrate, but they do not teach you how, everybody say please organice, but they do not say how, also the mind is so crazy !... so we need to create this kind of methods to teach to manage our mind.

I am 27 years old and this kind of things has change my life just 3 months ago. Because the big problem is the coherence and to be identify with thinkings. Actually anyone teach us that we have to learn to create thinkings !!

All this kind of things is the most important and it is what I want to taste with YOUrSELF project. Where in a course of robotic for kids that never has studied mathematics, programming before, I would be the responsable to make then being programming after 7 months. Anyway I am loocking for a few investment to be able to do it.

I will write my ideas on paper and I would love to share it with you. thank you so much !

Photo of Oliver Fabian Avila Tamayo

Such a really important information, thank you so much for sharing that video. I am working on same project... we should make a team ! and let´s work together :D