More about Chris Argyris and Donald Schön’s ideas – following on from the “Espoused Theory and Theory-in-Use” posting.

Our actions can be viewed as keeping some set of variables within acceptable limits. These variables are determined by our theory in use. When something goes wrong, we tend to look for another strategy that will keep the variables within those same limits, rather than questioning the variables themselves. We can describe this as ‘single-loop learning’.

Double Loop Learning
The more profound “double-loop learning” happens when we examine the variables themselves (or the values, beliefs and assumptions behind them) in the light of the results of our action strategies. We then become more aware of our theories in use.

Where only single-loop learning is taking place, the unexamined assumptions behind it tend to lead to advocacy of one’s own viewpoint, defensiveness, a win-lose outlook, and a wish to control interactions . This can happen at personal, team or organisational levels.

Double-loop learning, by contrast, is characterised by inquiry rather than advocacy, greater openness, a win-win outlook, and a willingness to share control. This creates a more positive emotional climate and enables individual and organisational development.

Methods of facilitating double-loop learning include reflection, coaching, and receiving feedback which compares espoused beliefs and explanations with actual results.

Further reading: Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness
by Chris Argyris and Donald A. Schön

© Andy Smith and Coaching Leaders Ltd 2008

Double-Loop Learning

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