Taking the whole self as the unit of analysis in learning design


I spent about 13 hours on a Singapore airlines flight coming back to Singapore from London, after having been on a Lufthansa flight from Philadelphia to London for 9 hours.  Spent most of that time alone with my thoughts. I found my self thinking about a framework for designing learning that focuses on the whole person. One that avoids focusing only on content or skills or behavior and somehow manages to take the whole person into consideration, aiming to impact how such a person enacts their life.

I am aware of how complicated and maybe even unattainable that might sound but I have always wondered how effective we can ever be at dealing with human development if we always have to reduce our efforts to one tiny aspect of the dynamic combination of things a person actually does when enacting their life moment by moment, situation by situation.

So I started tossing around some of the foundational concepts in human learning and development from Skinner to Piaget, Freud to to Kegan, Schon to Kolb and everything in between that came to me.  I put together a holistic view of the elements of the person that should be in scope when the unit of design is the whole self. This view of “Me” is presented in the image above (post header)

Using this view of the person, I then focused on trying to distill out how I think we can view the experience of being human and enacting life on a daily basis. My goal was to come up with a version of this that applies to the simplest of human pursuits as it would the most complex. I came up with the 4-stage READ Cycle – “READ-ing your self”. The READ Cycle is presented below:

  1. Resolution: e.g. Select the right color
  2. Experience: e.g. seeing the colors, differentiating between the colors seen, deciding which of the colors seen is the right color
  3. Accomplishment: e.g. deciding what action to take to select the chosen color, executing the chosen action to select the chosen color
  4. Development: e.g. improving the ability to select the right the color on an on-going basis

This is summarized in the table below with 2 examples, one simple one more complex presented side by side:

The READ Cycle Stages of enacting life


The primary and central unit of design is the self. Every experience revolves around the self. From the smallest microscopic resolution to the most ambiguous resolution.  The level of ambiguity associated with a READ cycle increases the complexity of the meaning to be processed by the self and increases the range of actions required to accomplish the resolution. Debriefing READ focuses on exploring the level of evolution and development of the person as manifested across the READ cycle stages.

While these thoughts are clearly still forming, I believe we need to keep looking for ways to avoid focusing on just one tiny aspect of human activity in trying to improve human agency. We should be able to bring and keep the whole person in view and keep the whole person in view all the time.


  • [i] Action
  • [ii] Quality of action
  • [iii] Object acted upon
  • [iv] Key construct that defines the intended goal. Simple concept with constituting data that is much closer to the concept
  • [v] Action
  • [vi] Object acted upon
  • [vii] Quality of action
  • [viii] Also the key construct that defines the intended goal but in this case the construct is a complex concept. The constituting data for the concept is far removed from the concept. i.e. the experience and accomplishment are significantly more challenging

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