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Chris Argyris / Donald Schön: Learning Theories Cheat Sheet by

learning     theory     argyris     sch-n

Introd­uct­ion­:Le­arning Loops and Cycles

The starting point is determ­ining the difference between theory and action. Everyone has two theories of action: theories in use (governing our actual behaviour) and espoused theories (what we say we do). In popular terms this also relates to the saying: “do as I say (not as I do)”. Argyris argues that effect­iveness comes from aligning these two theories of action


Then comes learning (seen here as detection and correction of errors):
Sin­gle­-loop learning comes from the fact that human beings, faced with adversity, just try to set the same governing variables in a different way – as a quest for effici­ency.
Double loop learning is when we look at the governing variables (norms, policies, object­ives) that guide our activities and our responses to events occurring. This is where effect­iveness (as opposed to just effici­ency) comes in.
◾In another article, another author explains that on the topic of organi­sat­ional learning, Argyris is also referring to deutero learning as the awareness that (single and double­-loop) learning must happen. This means identi­fying the learning styles and facili­tating factors to understand the gap between targeted outcome and actual perfor­mance (not a very comple­xit­y-f­riendly theory really though).

Double Loop Learning


Expanding Learning Capacity

Argyris and Schön considered how to expand the capacity of organi­sations to engage in double­-loop learning – as they saw this as crucial to adapt to fast-c­hanging enviro­nments – but it is also inherently difficult because the reasoning process of indivi­duals “inhibits exchange of relevant inform­ation”. In his study, Argyris compares two models of human behaviours and contends that almost everyone follows model 1, a model that promotes superf­ici­ality, not losing face, defensive relati­onships etc. as opposed to a more win-win focused model 2.

Of course a lot of this theory should also be taken with a pinch of salt and some distance with respect to its linearity and dual approach. But the bottom ideas stick around.

The Argyris and Schön’s theory has been central to unearthing the role of facili­tators (of learning), reflecting on and questi­oning the difference between the two theories of action, as opposed to individual / private learning.

More on single, double and triple loop learning

◾Singl­e-loop learning is understood here as following the rules – like a thermostat that only corrects temper­ature when it goes too low or too high.
◾Doubl­e-loop learning is described as changing the rules – where the focus is not on applying the rules but on using creativity and critical thinking to find out if the rules that you are applying are indeed most approp­riate.
◾Tripl­e-loop learning is simply referred to as learning how to learn, implying that not only should we think about applying the rules or changing them but we should think about the rules themse­lves. The authors also depict triple­-loop learning as double­-loop learning applied to double loop learning itself

Doble Loop Learning Alliance

CIAT one of the CG centers who has pioneered learning alliances refers in the ILAC sourcebook to the importance of a double loop learning cycle to implement strategic actions, as depicted in the image

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