Fair Call

By Tess. To date the subject has concentrated on

  • learning
  • the experience of learning
  • how we might learn
  • why

Take aways are that the network is an emerging, self defining thing that learns (itself). And so changes. So before we get specific about what it is, we’re doing some cognitive reprocessing so we can approach it a bit differently. To begin to be in it, and not just learn about it. The second one, which I admit seems just weird but you need to trust us on this, is that right now the experiences you’re all having about the subject, the readings, the unlectures, the labs, and so on. This experience is what you need to notice because this is what the network feels like. Not what it is like from the outside making claims about what it might be, but to be a member or participant in it.

The Shirky Principle

Why does double loop learning matter? Why did we have to read it in a subject I thought was about computers? Double loop learning is about recognising the assumptions we bring to our learning and being able to look at these. Not because they are wrong – they might be ideal – but because these are, in Arygris’ terms – ‘constraining variables’. They provide constraint, and they can change. We always need constraints, but the wrong ones get in the way.

The internet is causing immense disruption to media industries. The ‘constraining variables’ these industries use to address how to evolve to survive in an online, distributed, deeply networked age is why they are struggling. Let’s use journalism and newspapers as an example. Step one: ignore the internet, since we are ‘real’ news, with professionals and so on, not just amateur opinion. Step two: oh, that didn’t work, so we need a big web presence, and maybe even a blog or two (which won’t be a real blog, the best journalism blogs are by journalists blogging outside of newspapers). Step three, still loosing market share and audience, we’ll berate and yell that all that other stuff isn’t really journalism, yes some of it is being written by the same people that, as journalists, we’d interview for the story, but that’s different (followed by self serving list of why it is different, where different = not as good). Step four, redesign web site for mobile and tablet, but still don’t have easy/automatic interconnection between stories, or let readers drill down into more detail and complexity – even leave the site for that sort of content – since, you know, it’s actually about page views for advertisers. Step five, still in decline, revert to old media model of a paying for content because, you know people will. (Except if I have to pay for online news will I subscribe to The Age or, perhaps, The Guardian, or The New York Times? Oh, perhaps you think I’ll go for The Age for local sport, but if I’m an AFL, soccer or cycling nut then in each case the newspaper’s coverage is a small sliver of what I’m actually interested in, and able to get, online, so really, it is only a generalist news service in an age of specialised media. And now of course the once maligned public broadcaster finds themselves in the box seat since their charter is to provide the service for their citizens, as a state funded right, which means once I charge for my content my readers move sideways to the ABC, or even the free news services from the BBC.)

Model I single loop learning all the way along. At no point has ‘what is journalism’ or ‘what is news’ been reconsidered. That remains the constraining variable (how it is produced, by who, and its forms and then mode of presentation). To make this visible to you, imagine news media didn’t exist (this is speculative design), but the internet did. If you were inventing journalism and news media today, from scratch, with mobile media and the internet as it technological beginning (and not the printing press), what would it be, what forms would it take? Answer that well, and you have a future business, and why most traditional media companies are slowly dying.

As internet theorist Clay Shirky rather astutely observed “institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution” (this is the Shirky principle). For journalism, the problem is going away (discussing and presenting what is happening in the world) because we all sort of know what is happening, but rather than respond to that, journalism/the press will simply become more shrill about its own validity as ‘truth’ mistaking that as its purpose and future.

Walking and Bumps (aka Loops)

David writes:

Single and double-loop learning is confusing me, but as far as I understand it, single-loop learning is when we detect an error, address it, and carry on with our lives as if nothing happened. Or, in my (no doubt severely wrong) analogy, when we trip over a crack in the pavement, steady ourselves, and keep walking. Double-loop learning, on the other hand, requires a total rethink of “the learning systems” involved when we come across that error. So, if we tripped over a crack in the pavement, and then tore that pavement up and built a new street. Yeah, that’s definitely it.

This is sort of why we read, write about it, then commentate and discuss via blog post. It makes the readings richer, thicker, and also lets everybody weave more complex understandings, simply based on what you bring, not what I or others assume.

Good example, wrong way round, which is why it is such a great example. Learning to walk is deeply double loop. It’s how we learnt to do it in the first place. So to trip, then to flatten the entire road and so not have to learn how to negotiate unevennes, that is the definition of single loop. I don’t change how I walk, I flatten the world before me. (This is much the same as declaring, in week 2 of a rather difficult subject, that it is broken because it isn’t working – a tautology if ever there was!) Double loop is what our brains do, and us, by directed practice. This is where we concentrate and practice it again and again, trying different things each time. It’s why toddlers are called toddlers. It’s why a toddler will spend an hour playing on the steps, or stepping over cracks. It is trying out different things, jump, small step, big step, step where foot is at different height, slide my feet, lift so my toe doesn’t catch. A whole panoply of testing each of which changes the deep wiring of how we walk. Pure double loop.

How we walk changes, and we let the world stay bumpy


More Looping Loops

Alois wonders if this is already double loop. No. The word is a descriptor to describe a process so there’s a category error of thinking that a definition can turn something mobile and variable into something static. No. But we do need words to be able to address ideas, even slippery ones. Denham picks up the thermostat as single loop, which is a simple feedback loop and the ‘variable’ is fixed – what is the temperature, double loop means the variable is more negotiable. So even using this engineering example a double loop might be a thermostat that ‘learns’ that in winter people seem to want it a bit warmer inside and on cold days warmer in the morning, cooler in the afternoon, and that in summer people prefer it to be a bit cooler inside than they like it in winter. So the thermostat is able to ‘learn’. Still machine learning, but the beginnings of double loop because the variable (ambient air temperature) is now able to be questioned.

Prani realises that double loop invites a certain type of honesty. Danielle picks up the point of model II needing our assumptions to be also available for question (this is what I did in the first unlecture when I contrasted the example of essay writing with blogs).

This though, is outstanding, from Abby:

Strangely enough, I think outside of the academic environments, my attitudes tend more towards Model II. Perhaps because in a professional working environment, there are fewer definitive measures, and a sense of teamwork and responsibility shared throughout a workplace.

Yes, and one reason I’ve set the reading is for you to all begin to realise that your education, inspite of the nature of the workplace, and the world, has largely trained you to be model I thinkers and doers. But it is model II that will matter for your futures if you want to be more than button pushers (or call centre middle managers).

Alexandra brings acting theory into to single and double loops, accurately noting that we move away from things when we act defensively. This subject intends to disrupt, and we’ve started with what we think learning and teaching is, the disruption is a deliberate positive strategy to make explicit what our otherwise implicit assumptions are. It’s a way of fast tracking double loop stuff.

Ditte has an excellent quote: “It  is  only  by  interrogating  and  changing  the  governing values,  the  argument  goes,  is  it  possible  to  produce  new action  strategies  that  can  address  changing circumstances.” It is excellent because media as an idea, industry, and form, is undergoing rapid change. Some of it will stay the same, but that risks being the modern version of opera, very expensive to run, requiring subsidisation, and only of interest to a specialist audience. Opera is the arts version of a threatened species, it needs special protection. The media is heading the same way. Even something as simple as journalism and the press, in the US there are serious claims being raised that it ought to receive state subsidies to continue. This in the land that most enshrines the idea of a free press and small government.

Cuong suggests that double loop learnings “pretty much similar to single loop learning  but extended with extra steps to undertake.” Not quite, that’s a quantitative answer (do a few more steps). Model II and double loop is a qualitative change. Not more steps but different steps that produce distinctly different sorts of outcomes and experiences. Patrick has a reasonable and mature response, recognising the ways in which what is discussed in the Arygris reading relates to not only learning, but emotional and personality possibilities too. In practice based disciplines (so where making stuff is fundamental, which covers most areas of media pretty thoroughly) the ability to reflect-in-practice is a key marker of those that have ‘mastery’ versus the apprentice, or the just plain not very good practitioner. Reflection-in-practice is in the moment of the making, not afterwards. It is a sort of super charged double loop sort of learning. The more you know about your own methods (or ‘systems’) the better off you are in these contexts. For instance, if you’re already feeling threatened by the subject (and so are deciding it is ‘not working’ and so on) then you probably thrive in situations where what needs to be done is very clear, well defined, and so on. It is important to realise this about yourself now, not in your first job, because it simply means you are very good at some things, and not at others, and you want to know this before your first real job application.

Speculative, (More)

Daniel has some excellent notes about speculative writing, and the idea of the invitation that speculative writing makes of you. And from a week ago Sharon has notes, Chantelle thinks model II is about coming up with own ideas (it is, but more importantly it is seeing your assumptions that inform your ideas in the first place), and Olivia works out that the reading is not about networked media but ideas to learn throughout your education (and your education does not begin when you finish university, and from my point of view I think your education beyond being told how to answer the essay question on a VCE exam that has incredibly strict assessment parameters is just beginning). Olivia reads my essay on blogs and media education, and note, she started a blog already and that let to internships. Notice the order there which I’ve talked about twice now. You do, they come. This is the reverse of industrial media where you try to get in their door way first. You have enormous capacity and agency to show your abilities now, and they will come to you, not the other way round. Get on, or watch the bus fly past.

My Double Loop Learning

Second lecture. Ask you to ask questions (in the language of the network this is called crowdsourcing). In the spirit of ‘model II’ learning and risk taking I invite those that didn’t ask a question to put up their hands. You did. I then told you why you’d been wrong to not ask a question.

That was me reverting to my mental map and not my espoused theory. My espoused theory includes things like “I will encourage and support students to contribute, to be peers in this learning, to experience trust, to take risks, that risks and errors will not automatically be criticised” and so on. My habits are that I am an academic, I have always questions, I always wonder about everything, and my golly goodness everyone else has to too since, well, isn’t that what has to happen? (You can see the mental model is just messy and full of assumptions – ‘governing variables’ – that collapse pretty quickly when made visible.)

The unlecture model is for all teachers to contribute and participate. I answered all questions and said everything. I never once stopped and asked the teaching staff, or you, what you thought. This is partly my narcissism (there’s a certain moment of self deprecation there but also some home truth), and again is my mental model. While I publicly advocate (and believe) in diversity and debate and getting a mix and variety of ideas in there to make things really rich, I default to the spectacle of me as academic expert. Mode I. It is easier for me, it is defensive, , it is trying to control things, and to ‘not lose’ rather than just hang out with the ideas.

I did the same thing in the tute too. So to change this takes an enormous effort on my behalf. Not physical or even intellectual, just to notice it, and then to let something else in. The double loop is to recognise the gap between my espoused theory and what I did this week in practice, and to then see that my ‘governing variables’ can be questioned. IN that moment I have the potential to become a better teacher, a better researcher, a better practitioner. By noticing, and having the know how of what to try and do next. Try to do next. A risk, another experiment. It might not work, again. But that is not a reason to not do it, is it?

Chris Argyris Reading

Action, double loop learning. Some of the things I take away from this. Key things. This connects to the reading from Mason on noticing as a key aspect of double loop learning is the specific attention you need to be able to apply to your own assumptions and practices (how you do things) If you don’t notice, then none of the double loop things are even possible. (On a related note, as Mason points out, excellence in professional work requires a heightened form of noticing, or to turn it the other way around, those who turn out to be very good at what they do ‘notice’ things and in ways that others who aren’t so good can’t do.)

We all have habits of how we go about solving problems, and going about doing things. These habits are ‘mental maps’. This is how we actually do things. Espoused theory is the story we tell ourselves and others about what we think we do, but usually is not what we actually do.

Imagine you’re reading something that is difficult to understand. Your ‘espoused theory’, what you think you do, is, perhaps something like:

  • pause and keep rereading that sentence till you ‘get’ it (and if that doesn’t work, stop reading)
  • skip a bit and come back to it later
  • try to get a rough idea of what it might be about, and continue reading with it sort of in the back of your mind, in case something later helps you understand what it means
  • keep reading, and just not worry about what didn’t make sense

However, for many the mental map is often different to what we say we do. So when we read something difficult we might think that, yes, we read it, and understood it, even though there was plenty in there we didn’t. And even that we read it, and didn’t understand it, but that isn’t because I needed to think differently about it, but that it was written in a way where it’s the writings fault that I couldn’t understand it, so if I can’t understand it reading it once, then, well, that’s sort of that really.

Now, even outside of the example of reading something, Argyris’ point (and I will ignore the mention of management of organisational learning, as what he says is as relevant to making media, and learning, as it is to organisations) is that if you can make your mental model explicit to yourself, you can then see what your assumptions are, and that often it is these that can be changed to understand a situation or problem differently. This is what he means by ‘governing variables’.

Why governing? Because they decide everything else. Why variable? Because they change, can be changed, and shift. For example, to paraphrase American literary critic Lionel Trilling, in relation to reading ‘difficult’ novels he said something along the lines of:

[They] have been involved with me for a long time – I invert the natural order not out of lack of modesty but taking the cue of W. H. Auden’s remark that a real book reads us. I have been read by Eliot’s poems and by Ulysses and by Remembrance of Things Past and by The Castle for a good many years now, since early youth. Some of these books at first rejected me; I bored them. But as I grew older and they knew me better, they came to have more sympathy with me and to understand my hidden meanings. Their nature is such that our relationship has been very intimate.

Note the shift in the ‘governing variables’. The novels aren’t there for him to read. They read him. This is a dramatic change, it inverts our expected understanding. So if he doesn’t ‘get’ it it is his problem, not the book’s or author’s. He is not ready yet, too young, they grew bored with him and sent him away. In other words the things he reads ask questions of him, and if he can’t answer those questions, the problem – in the first instance – is on his side. This is, for theoretical readings, my ‘governing variable’, that the work has something to say and that my role, in the first instance, is to be able to hear this. Then I can judge. But if I can’t first hear it, then I can’t judge it.

So, back to Argyris. Single loop learning we don’t question or recognise the ‘governing variables’ and as a result the goals, assumptions and so on are taken for granted. (I only do things in class that have marks attached, I write essays because they are academically relevant to me, a video is a linear, sequential matched bit of image and sound, a book is something linear and sequential, I learn by being told what the ideas are, I could make a better film if I had a better camera, and so on.) When these are questioned, or challenged, we become defensive. We also want things defined and this becomes how and why we do something (“what is a good blog post”, “how many do I have to do?”, “what will count as good?”). So, as he outlines, these are risk minimisation strategies, get it right by confirming it all first, meaning there is no wasted effort or mistakes made, that my environment, as a student and media user, needs to be known and controlled (by me, by the subject, by the teacher), and so on. Along side this are assumptions that all of this is normal, correct, and as it should be. In this model I there is little ability to test assumptions. We might argue about whether a good blog post is 100 or 200 words, and has 3 or 5 links out, but not what ‘good’ even means and why it might even matter.

Hence in model II control is shared (perhaps ‘good’ is then discussed and arrived at as a result of experience, context, and open conversation amongst those who are doing it?), there is a commitment to do it (in other words because it is worth doing, not because you get an explicit return for it), and it allows for common (that is a variety) of goals. Mine, the other staff, yours. This makes double loop learning more likely, simply because if there is an open discussion about, for example, ‘what a good blog post is’ then assumptions are then being recognised, and negotiated. It is the difference between being told that good equals this, versus developing a shared (and so mutually recognised) understanding of what matters. (At this point some will say that my job is to tell you want counts – model I, and I’ll say none of you will want to work in an organisation that does that to you, so let’s learn how this works now.)

To conclude. Traditional media is stuck in model I learning and systems. The internet is very much model II (just think about social media’s relationship model for ‘customers’ and companies and how it is ‘inverted’ the assumptions of corporate communication. Ten years ago I told my customers what our company did, what the products were and so on, through press releases and advertising. Now I have to spend as much time responding to what they tell me and each other, publicly, about my company and its products, and if I don’t listen, if I think my old model of saturation advertising (yelling louder), or doing nothing (letting it blow away because the media will move on to something else) will work, then I’m in trouble, because now we are the media).


Georgina has things worth reading on double looped learning. Kimberly notes that model II involves innovation, model I doesn’t (correct). Anna sees that the idea of double loop learning might help her to notice and then wonder about her own assumptions. Kate applies single and double loop to the Zombie apocalypse (I suppose someone had to), the double loop would not only be how you’d really react, it would be to rethink the original assumptions, which is sort of what lots of films in this genre do when the nerdy person speculates out loud “I wonder if” and comes up with a out of left field way to solve the impending disaster – by questioning and reframing the guiding assumptions. Tony writes about governing variables, the thing here is that they are governing, and so what needs to be noticed is that because they govern they decide everything else. And because they govern, we accept their governance, Argyris is asking, why?


Louisa found the idea of ‘speculating‘ to resonate. First response, dumbfoundedness. Then use yoga as an example in terms of how it started and then speculating about its changes, and by implication future changes.

William uses my speculative writing, and thinks:

Though really we could be moving in any direction; forward, preferably, but also backward, sidewards, or if we have a really bad semester, down. But we’re always moving, and that’s what counts

Works for me. Movement, flow. The internet is an enormous system that is

  • not still
  • about the movement of (information, knowledge, data, media)
  • it is the movement and exchange of this that creates the web
  • and its ‘maps’

Imagine a cinema. It is still and things come to it. Imagine your blog. Where is it? And when I view it, it (literally), comes to me.

On the other hand he suggests this could describe any subject. Maybe, though control systems in engineering? No. Control systems require closed feedback loops, the internet, in that language, has some feedback loops, but this isn’t fundamental, and it is open, not closed.

Chantelle expects things to be blown around a bit, and yes, I think the way to think about this is that we are the boat, or on the boat. It is a boat awash, surrounded, bobbing there. But as William notes, over there is as good as over here. So direction becomes, well, interesting.

I like Arthur’s observation that some will want to float about, others row furiously (my question though is where to?), but generally we are to, well, learn what it is to be in this flow, on this swell of ocean, as it is. Without insisting it be other. As Edward observes “we just have to adapt to the current and go where we want to”, to which I’d add, and to go where it also takes us.

Victoria, pessimistically, finds the boat metaphor unhelpful. Perhaps don’t treat it as a metaphor, instead it is the subject. So, if your boat sinks, what do you need to know to not drown? That is one of the things that this subject and the others in the digital stream are about. Again, not specific content (I can tell you that you need to swim but that is learning how to swim is it?)