Further dialog on single/double/triple loop

Adapted from “Field Guide to Consulting and Or
ganizational Development” – to obtain the entire
book, select “Publications” at
http://www.authenticityconsulting.com
Copyright; Authenticity Consulting, LLC 217
Different Kinds of Learning (Loops of Learning)
Key breakthroughs in helping people understand the dy
namics of learning are the concepts of single-
loop, double-loop and triple-loop learning. These con
cepts help you to realize and appreciate the
kinds of learning that you and your client can gl
ean during a project. The concepts are largely from
the works of Argyris and Schon (1974).
Single-Loop Learning (Following the Rules)
The conventional example used to explain this concep
t is the thermostat. It operates in one mode.
When it detects that the room is too cold, it turns on
the furnace. When it detects that the room is too
hot, it turns off the furnace. In other words, the
system includes one automatic and limited type of
reaction – little or no learning occurs and little or no insight is needed. Experts assert that most
organizations operate according to single-loop lear
ning – members establish rigid strategies, policies
and procedures and then spend their time detecti
ng and correcting deviations from the “rules.”
You might exhibit this kind of learning when you notice that your client has not produced a certain
deliverable on time during a project, so you get angr
y at your client and demand that your client
produce the deliverable – without ever really
exploring why your client did not produce the
deliverable in the first place.
Double-Loop Learning (Changing the Rules)
In double-loop learning, members of the organization are able to reflect on whether the “rules”
themselves should be changed, not only on whether
deviations have occurred and how to correct
them. This kind of learning involves more “thinking outside the box,” creativity and critical
thinking. This learning often helps participants
understand why a particular solution works better
than others to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Experts assert that double-loop learning is critical
to the success of an organization, especially during times of rapid change.
To continue the above example of your clie
nt not producing a deliverable, double-loop learning
occurs when you engage your client in discu
ssion about their reasons for the absence of the
deliverable, and whether your expectations were r
ealistic or not. Results of the discussion might be,
for example, that project timelines are changed
or that communications between consultant and
client are improved.
Triple-Loop Learning (Learning About Learning)
Triple-loop learning involves “learning how to learn” by reflecting on how we learn in the first place.
In this situation, participants would reflect on
how they think about the “rules,” not only on whether
the rules should be changed. This form of lear
ning helps us to understand a great deal more about
ourselves and others regarding beliefs and percep
tions. Triple-loop learning might be explained as
double-loop learning about double-loop learning.
To continue the above example, triple-loop learni
ng occurs when, after having engaged in discussion
with your client, both of you discuss the dyna
mics of your conversation, including how it was
conducted, what learning was produced from the c
onversation and how that learning was produced.

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