Developing The Soccer Brain Using Self-Organized Learning Environments & The Art of Questioning

What is a SOLE & How Does it Work?

The concept of self-organized learning environments was invented by Dr. Sugatra Mitra, a physicist and educational researcher.  The concept started out as something called “minimally invasive learning” but now it is referred to as a SOLE.  SOLE learning requires children to organize themselves and structure their own learning. using external resources, usually the internet.

Basics of SOLE Learning Today:

  • Children should be put into teams of 4-5 students each. It is beneficial to have a few teams working in a room together so that they can share ideas and knowledge.
  • Each team should have one “captain” or “team leader” who is in charge of keeping order in the group, allowing all members to contribute and collaborate.
  • Each team should have access to one computer preferably with a widescreen monitor.
  • Children that are computer savvy can start working right away on the given task. If the students have no computer experience, dedicate some of the time to figuring out how to use the computer.  One of Dr. Mitra’s first experiments involved putting a computer in the wall of a slum in India to see how quickly the children in that neighborhood would pick up basic computer skills.  Not only did these children lack computer skills, they didn’t speak English; they not only figured out how to use the computer, they taught themselves and others English.
  • Children should be allowed to switch to another team at any time (trade).
  • Children can attempt to recruit any student to join their team that they want but it must be a trade with another group to keep group numbers even.
  • The groups are given a question by the teacher and asked to “go find the answer”. The students are not guided or coached after that point.  They are just given encouragement from a mentor/teacher, internet access and the members of their group to work with.
  • Younger kids even taught older kids as they browsed the internet, sent email and played video games.
  • Children can go over to other teams and observe what they are working on. They should not feel competitive with the other teams.  Rather it should be seen as a positive thing to make sure the entire class succeeds.
  • After a set amount of time the groups will present their results to the class as a whole.

*Notice the positive and safe learning environment that is created with the above guidelines.  Creating this type of learning environment needs to be a priority for all coaches. *

Role of the Teacher/Mentor in a SOLE

The role of the teacher is to offer encouragement and praise, for example saying things like “you worked very hard”, “I am so impressed with you”, “I didn’t know that at your age” or “I am very impressed you found that out”.  When running a S.O.L.E there is no such thing as a bad question from a student.  All students must feel free and be encouraged to ask as many questions as possible of the teacher or each other.  However, the teacher should never directly answer the child’s question with the final answer.  Teachers will ask the children to dig a little deeper or ask them if they can look in a different place to find out more information.  If the children are stuck and need a hint, the teacher can give one but it is better if the teacher says something like, “I am here for you to help in anyway, but my hope is you can do as much as this on your own with your group”.   Remember, one of the reasons Albert Einstein was so successful and intelligent was his use of “Big Questions”.

These guidelines for SOLEs are in place for a reason.  For example, allowing children to leave their group and join another prevents one child from dominating the group or another child.  With regard to team size, if teams have too few group members then interaction will not be encouraged enough, which is crucial for the learning style to work.  It was also found that when children were offered “easy” compared to “hard” questions, they tend to choose the “easy” questions if they were alone.  However, teams or groups were more inclined to choose the “hard” questions.  Lastly, using one-computer per/group forces kids to share, collaborate, communicate and come up with their own rules and roles.  Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of why this learning method works and soccer is ultimately a team sport.

In order to effectively teach the students a subject like soccer the teacher would have to ask the important “Big Questions”.  Asking the “Big Questions” requires some knowledge to ensure students would be following a logical developmental path.  A soccer coach might ask questions like “What is a 1v1 move and why would you want to learn them?” or “What can my teammates do when I have the ball and do I need a person to pass the ball to?” or “What does shielding the soccer ball mean in soccer and what are the important things to know about shielding the ball?”

To be most effective the questions should reinforce the general curriculum.

Adapting The Concepts of S.O.L.E.S for The Purpose of Soccer Development

As I learned about self-organized learning environments I was able to relate my own personal development to some of the key concepts.  As I mentioned before I learned most of my soccer technical ability straight from a Wiel Coerver book.  I studied that book every day for hours as I attempted to learn all the techniques shown.  In many ways that book was my “internet” or “information source”.  The next way I learned was by seeking out talented players on my team to teach me.  I would ask each player to show me how they did a certain technique.  I would listen and then practice it until I got the technique down.  That collaboration with my teammates was another valuable source of information.  Some top professional clubs around the world not only encourage collaboration but make it part of their curriculum.  The other great resource I learned from was from taping professional soccer games on television and studying them.  I learned many valuable techniques from watching hours upon hours of games with a notebook in my hand.  I would write every step involved in the technique down, then I would go to the field and practice it until I learned it.   In essence I was conducting my own mini-SOLE!   I can only imagine how much more I could have learned if I was part of a group that had access to the worldwide web and worked on the “Big Questions” asked by a coach.  Combine that with being trained at a soccer club that incorporates self-organized learning and the latest training methods into its curriculum, there is no doubt that I would have developed much differently as a player!