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

Strange tip that helps you remember Law & Watt’s DOTS Model:

If you read the model correctly, it should have the acronym SODiT. Slightly against the Law of polite society, but easy to remember, and, unlike ‘DOTS’, in the right order as well: Self – Opportunities – Decisions – Transitions.


Classic DOTS (Law B., Watts A.G., 2003)

In the DOTS analysis, the Original Version (1977) Law and Watts argue that there are four careers education tasks to be accomplished with each student, facilitating the development respectively of:

  1. Opportunity awareness:
    • 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
  2. Self awareness
    • exploration of strenghts, aptitudes, qualifications and qualities, etc…
    • limitations someone has
    • personal needs, aspirations and values
  3. Decision learning
    • helping clients understand the different ways in which decisions are made, different decision making styles
    • what factors are at play and helping them explore and develop skills that will enable good decision making
    • 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.

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 storyboarding, 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

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 enquiry, experimenting and finding out. It sets out the causal flow of one step to the next, each making the next possible.

How can we use this model?

Law stated that intial 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 explicitely 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?
  • 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!: