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).

02 Readings (to be Done by Class Three)

Design Fiction

Design is about changing what is, so is forward looking. What does it mean for you to think of yourselves (even now) as doing things that can effect change, as media knowledge makers, and students, rather than reporting back what you already know? Design fiction is a method used in design research and practice, it is what is influencing the idea to write ‘speculatively’ in our wiki.


Bosch, Torie. “Sci-Fi Writer Bruce Sterling Explains the Intriguing New Concept of Design Fiction.” Slate. Web. 29 July 2013. (PDF)

Ward,, Matthew. “Design Fiction as Pedagogic Practice.” Medium. Web. 29 July 2013. (PDF)

Maybe One Of

Both of these are very academic, situating design fiction in the context of design research. YMMV.

Grand, Simon, and Martin Wiedmer. “Design Fiction: A Method Toolbox for Design Research in a Complex World.” Proceedings of the Design Research Society Conference. 2010. (PDF)

This is a difficult read. Part 2 you can skip unless you’re into the history and philosophy of science, or might be. Part 3 has abstract discussion about what the ‘toolbox’ needs to have, which is useful, if you can follow the abstractions (or ask about them).

KNUTZ, EVA, THOMAS MARKUSSEN, and POUL RIND CHRISTENSEN. “The Role of Fiction in Experiments Within Design, Art & Architecture.” n. pag. Print. (PDF)

00 Readings – to be done in Class One – What is Networked Media (the subject)

This is a speculative curriculum. We encourage speculative writing and media making, critical writing that plays with fiction and voice. The passage below is the reading for the first class.

This is networked media, at least while sitting at a cafe on a cold and wet Saturday afternoon in mid July.

Something a bit unkempt, even dishevelled. Smart, a lot – too many – of ideas. A sea indeed of ideas. An ocean of ideas. And there’s networked media. A boat. Certainly not a big one. Doesn’t really have a sail but there is some sort of mast to pin something on, against, to. Or a motor. Not adrift. It bobs, floats, weaves. Seeks and follows eddies of the breeze, currents, a wave. Sometimes it gets blown and washed around, other times darting along with deliberate intent revelling in its boat knowledge of breeze, current, wave. There is no shore. Not at least to be seen. Anywhere. All ocean, and because it is all water one place is as well as close enough, or further away, than any other. Each wave is different. Different enough to have a difference, a difference that matters. This gives this ocean contour, currents, eddies and tides. You dip an oar, seeking something over there, enjoying the whirl and whorl of water around the oar.

Some Possible Questions
What sort of experience might it be to be on this boat? What might you need to know to get by? Is this is a metaphor of the network? Why? How? Why not? If this is a description of this subject (it is) then what does it suggest, for you, about what is going to happen here? What are the things that have knowledge, that ‘know’ in the speculative, imaginary, description? What does it even suggest, that things know? What isn’t in this description, as a subject?

01 Readings (to be done by Class Two)

Your call. All three = best. If you need a soft option then either do the required only, or in lieu of that, both the recommended ones.


Smith, M. K. (2001) ‘Chris Argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning’, the encyclopedia of informal education, Last update: May 29, 2012. (PDF copy)

Recommended (and easier)

Miles, Adrian. “Blogs in Media Education: A Beginning.” Australian Screen Ed 41 (2006): 66–9. Print. ( (PDF copy)

Mason, John. Researching Your Own Practice: The Discipline of Noticing. London: Routledge, 2002. Print. (PDF copy)