George Lucas Educational Foundation

SOLE: Motivate Students to Teach Themselves (and Each Other)

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What if we asked our students questions (straight from our curriculum), and then we let them, in groups and with the internet, find the answers themselves?  That’s what Dr. Sugata Mitra suggests might motivate and inspire students to learn and teach one another on their own, without adult interference.  Winner of the 2013 TED Prize, educational researcher Dr. Sugata Mitra has shown with his ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments that, “in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other, if they’re motivated by curiosity and peer interest” (  

The Self-Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) proposed by Dr. Mitra lets students organize themselves in groups and learn using an internet-connected computer with little teacher support. What would that look like in your classroom?

In my 8th grade Digital Media classes, creating a SOLE environment was easy: I built a website of resources and let them choose what they wanted to learn.  Movie making, 3D architectural design, animation, coding, blogging, infographic design, computer game design: a wealth of online tutorials allowed my students to pursue their own passions and teach themselves (and each other) whatever they wanted to learn.

But what would a SOLE look like in an academic course, like my English 8 classes? Could I motivate my students to read critically and write effectively on their own?

In November of each year, my students write their own novels (thanks to the support of the Young Writers Program of NaNoWriMo). In the past I have spent September and October giving my students assignments to help them prepare for this writing project: plot outlines, character descriptions, setting details, etc. But what if I asked them to research how to write a novel on their own?  What if I let them, in SOLEs, search for answers to questions: how do I write a novel? How do I create complex characters? How do I plot my story?

I think the answers they find will be more powerful than the ones I spoon-feed them.  What about you?  What questions could you ask your students to find on their own? How could your students self-organize, with whatever tools they need, to learn the curriculum?

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said elkaoukaji's picture

the more motivated the students are , the easier the tasks will be for them, and therefore the teacher will play his real role as a facilitator only.

Elizabeth's picture

It is the delightful role of an educator to instill creativity and curiosity into fresh minds. I appreciate this SOLE method, particularly because it is becoming necessary for students to be self-motivated in their education, especially in this digital age. They have a vast array of knowledge at their fingertips. When I think about how technology and the Internet has helped to re-shape the college realm (where more and more, online college classes at the undergraduate and graduate level are becoming the norm), it makes sense to be preparing our students to interact with assignments in order to learn practically. I look forward to trying some of these methods with my students.

Adri's picture
Eager to take my classes to the real world! =)

Nice ideas! What about working with the concept of 'flipped classrooms'? You may be able to 'lose control' little by little and allow stds to develop their SOLEs with your help (perhaps for the first task but later on, they will search the Net on their own)

Rafranz Davis's picture
Rafranz Davis
Executive Director of Professional and Digital Learning, Lufkin ISD

I love the idea of a SOLE. I think that most teachers still fear this and more so at the secondary level. We've yet to collectively understand that the days of being the only one in the room with "the information" are all but over.

Before we can get there, you are so dead on with learning to ask better questions. We have to ask questions that even we do not know the answers to. For example, in math, instead of asking kids to solve, give them an answer and have them create the path towards getting there. Share paths like a class wide map and collectively evaluate for consistent patterns. Who says that kids have to write down "the rules" first? They can get there and will come to the consensus on their own if we can let go of our own inhibitions and allow it.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

I agree that this can be a difficult shift to make, and we do need to work hard to come up with better questions to ask our students. I love Dan Meyer's approach of working to bring about perplexity in his curriculum and his students -- it isn't easy, but how much better for our students if we can set up questions/problems/projects so that the students are curious, perplexed and interested in figuring out the answers! Check out Dan's work here:

Lina Raffaelli's picture
Lina Raffaelli
Former Community Engagement Intern at Edutopia

Laura--Dan Meyer was my high school Geometry teacher!!! Wow what a small world it is! He was the hands down the best math teacher I've ever had (and math is NOT my expertise). But his real-world approach to teaching and problem-solving just made sense for me. Like you said, it fosters curiosity and critical thinking. Definitely worth checking out his blog!

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Maker Educator, Google Certified Innovator, Dreamer, Doer. Learning experience designer, workshop leader/speaker, author. Stanford #Fablearn Fellow. #GoogleEI

Had the great privilege of seeing Dan deliver this talk at TEDxNYED:

Lina, I can't imagine what it would be like to have him as a teacher. Transformational wouldn't even begin to describe the experience, I bet!


Bill Ferguson's picture

I have used SOLE in my class for the last 18 months. My kids are absolutely loving it. They are happy to not have to "read and answer questions" which unbeknownst to them they are doing anyway but differently because they are researching. The benefits? Improved reading levels, stronger research and presenting skills, and stronger social skills. All of my students are reading at Grade level.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

Sounds great, Bill! I would love to hear some more specifics about how you're creating that SOLE environment. Can you share examples? What kinds of questions are you having your students research? Thanks for sharing!

Pardeep Goyal's picture
Pardeep Goyal
Blogger, Marketer and Co-founder of Education Startup

Awesome post!! I was surprised when I first watched Dr. Sugata Mitra Ted Talk, from that moment I am big fan of his work. Great to know that you are implementing SOLE in your teachings.

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