It’s not my intention to give full information or an extensive discussion on every theory. This website is intended to be a starting point and the main difference with other websites is the visual representation of the theory, which I hope will help get to grips with the theory. There are also links it the bottom to get your further research started.

DOTS Model

Bill Law & A.G. Watts – 1977 & reviewed 1996


Classic DOTS (Law B., Watts A.G., 2003) – two different ways of understanding DOTS

In the DOTS analysis, the Original Version (1977) Law argues that there are four careers education tasks to be accomplished with each student:

  • Decisions
  • Opportunities
  • Transitions
  • Self

DOTS can be read or used in two different ways:

  1. As a descriptive theory – to assess and describe a situation or where the client is
  2. As a prescriptive tool – not to prescribe a route forward for the client in a deterministic way, but as a tool to help clients move forward.

* If you’re interested, I would recommend watching this video as it offers a lot of context to Law’s work and progression in his thinking.

1. Joining the DOTS – as a descriptive tool

Law explains that initially, DOTS was developed for, and used in, their initial research in six different schools (Julia Yates, Bill Law, 2013, 21:27). So, initially it was used and intended as a descriptive tool for analysing and categorising research findings, rather than a prescriptive model to help clients. It was a tool for ‘joining the DOTS’ as it were. We can still use this in the same way, as an analytical tool to see where the client is in their career management. This can be by assessing, as a first action with a new or existing client:

  • The awareness of opportunities they have and their awareness of the job market and the reality of what they think their ideas can lead on to.
  • Their awareness of themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, skills, personality traits, values, etc…
  • The client’s ability to make decisions and their decision making skills.
  • Their ability to make successful transitions.

DOTS model of career guidance and interpretation of joining the 4 elements.

2. SODiT – DOTS as a prescriptive tool

If you look at the DOTS acronym carefully, and if you would like to use this as a tool, then DOTS is not really in the right order. Law himself puts the letters in an order that can be used as a tool to support clients (Law, n.d.). DOTS is described by some as SODiT by adding the lower case ‘i’, which makes it extraordinarily more memorable, albeit a bit rude. I’m not sure if Law would have approved! Used as a tool to support the client in their career management, the 4 elements of DOTS can work as follows:

  1. Self awareness: exploration of the client’s –
    • strengths, aptitudes, qualifications and qualities, etc…
    • limitations someone has
    • personal needs, aspirations and values
  2. Opportunity awareness: supporting the client find out about –
    • the general structure of the world of work
    • the range of opportunities within it
    • the demands that they will make
    • rewards and satisfaction they can offer
  3. Decision learning:
    • helping clients understand the different ways in which decisions are made, different decision making styles
    • finding out with the client what factors are at play and helping them explore and develop skills that will enable good decision making
    • assisting clients in taking responsibility for decision making
  4. Transition learning:
    • helping clients gain the awareness and skills needed for making good transitions. This could mean helping them gain awareness of the differences between two environments (education – post education for instance) or help them relate what they learn and already know to what they will need or can use later.

DOTS career guidance model by Law and Watts.

New DOTS (Law B. ,2001)

In the 1990s Law reviewed DOTS and added an additional assessment of careers in a changing world by stating that:

  • It’s important to take account of the changing labour economy and the strong and often conflicting pressures in the lives of young people and children, as well as the resulting feelings and social attachments
  • Individuals must be seen in the context of a social world. Decisions and problems have to be set in this broader context, with a particular focus on the importance of values and responsibilities.

In his article, Law recognises the dynamic and ever changing nature of the late 20th century world of work. He argues that old DOTS was based on the comparison of lists and fixed categories. He recognises that the new forms of how work is regulated are “too fluid for a ready made system of categorisation” (classic DOTS and related theories). He also recognises that the process of thought is infused with feeling. There is decreasing need for muscle and increasing requirement for thought. For Law, this doesn’t mean that the ‘old way’ needs to be abandoned. He argues in favour of expansion instead, of incorporating the narrative of the new with the categorisation of the old. This is a significant shift in his thinking and he will later take a step beyond this by developing a model of story-boarding, which is firmly rooted in the narrative approach.

Narratives and process alongside categories

In ‘New DOTS: Career Learning for the Contemporary World’ and with New DOTS, Law recognises that narratives are useful in this extended context because:

  • they set action in context
  • they show interdependence between roles
  • points to the different roles that any person occupies (compare with Super’s model!)
  • identify the influence between people
  • take account of point-of-view
  • infuse action and events with feelings
  • explain past causes of present action (narrative or story)
  • explain how present action leads to future effects


  • they portray learning over time

You can see that this is a considerable shift from the model in the illustration above, which is more about direct action and finding matching solutions, rather than listening at/out for and exploring context. This moves from seeking information to seeking understanding or the what, why, where, how etc… of learning and decision making.

Four stages of learning or the SeSiFU model

Also for short called the SSFU model.

Law sets out the old DOTS model against four stages of learning (Law, 2001):

  1. Sensing (Se): getting a picture of the way things appear including:
    • learning about self – inner learning
    • learning about the world – outer learning
  2. Sifting (Si): organising a version of the way things are – developing a deeper sense of what is learnt – making information usable
  3. Focusing (F): becoming alert to the way things feel – making a mental map of how everything you found stands in relation to each other
  4. Understanding (U): developing an account of the way things work – developing critical awareness, explaining effects, anticipating consequences, supporting an account of intended action.

This looks like a list but if you look closely, it’s a story or narrative, where feelings have a definite place, from learning to intended action. You will also have noticed that the steps are the same ones as the ones in the model in the illustration – or old DOTS. However, Law concludes that:

  • DOTS sets out what people learn
  • Se-Si-F-U sets out how they learn it, in a narrative.

If anything, it sets career learning in a broader context and gives it more conceptual space. It’s also the process of what people learn and how people learn, the process of inquiry, experimenting and finding out. It sets out the causal flow of one step to the next, each making the next possible.

New DOTS or SeSiFU model of career guidance by Law.

How can we use this model?

Law stated that initial or earlier learning is the foundation for further learning (Law, 2001), and as such, his new DOTS model was first of all intended to be used in career learning for younger people. Law (2001b) also used his new model in making propositions for the then new and up and coming Connexions service. This gives us some indication of the context in which it fitted at the time. This doesn’t mean it can’t be used in individual interventions, as they can be described as ‘career learning’ as well. It’s also still grounded in a matching kind of ideology, albeit much developed to reflect changing times. This heritage makes it applicable in one to one interventions too.

On the other hand, the implied narrative approach doesn’t mean it needs to be limited to one to one work, of course. A good lesson plan will have a narrative structure in taking the learning from a starting point to a (provisional) end point.

My interpretation is that opportunities (does it come first in new DOTS because of it’s focus on career learning for younger people I wonder?), self, decisions and transitions can be used to make an initial assessment of where the client is, using the sensing parameter of new DOTS. Depending on what the client feels they need to work on, a narrative can then be built up with them to work through the remainder of the model as appropriate. Most of us will use some form of the old DOTS still at least in some cases at least, but new DOTS is something I haven’t explicitly tried.

In the sense of ‘earlier learning’ supporting ‘later learning’, this makes sense as determining the earlier learning that has happened will determine what later learning needs to take place to support the client.

In addition to my interpretation, Law (2001) suggests a model for career learning in primary schools which both illustrates the above and which will give you further reference material to establish how this model could be helpful for you in your practice.



Classic DOTS shares at least some of the downsides, as well as strengths of developmental theory. New DOTS is very different, however. How do you feel about new DOTS? Have a look and think how you would answer the following questions to get you started in building a critique of Law and Watts’ model:

  • How would new DOTS and classic DOTS work in your practice?
  • What about classic DOTS and the socio-cultural context in which the client makes decisions?
  • How has new DOTS improved on old DOTS and how does it related to today’s society, world of work and practice?
  • If you have a look at new DOTS, what are its weaknesses in today’s society and practice? What made it a model of its time?
  • What is the scope or reach of both Classic DOTS and new DOTS?
  • You could also compare it to Brown’s criteria to see how both DOTS models measure up.


Useful links:

The original model, from the people who developed it:

And there are many more. DOTS is popular!: