Lock, Stock and Two Loops of Learning

After reading the double-loop learning article by Chris Argyris for what must be the fourth or fifth time this morning, I must admit that I still don’t quite get it. I was once told that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else, which has since become a small measure I test myself with every time I am learning a new concept, and I would not be confident at the moment to begin to try and explain the notion of double-loop learning to someone else.

It seems as far as I can deduce, that double-loop learning is essentially a reframing of a situation by adapting your perspective on it in order to embrace the perceived ‘problem’ as a potential ‘solution’ for something else. This may, however, be far from the mark.

In an effort to employ double-loop learning to assist my understanding of double-loop learning based on what I understood so far about the theory, I began to independently research it. The problem being: the reading was not explaining clearly what double-loop learning was exactly. So as I understand it, a response via single-loop learning would have been to repeatedly read the article till it made sense, and if questioned about what it means, I would reply in very broad and general terms so as not to seem stupid or incompetent. Perhaps a double-loop learning response would be to question if or not the article is actually able to communicate the theory to me adequately. Perhaps I learn better via a more varied platform of communication. Perhaps some audio explanation and some visuals are needed to help clarify the dry academic text?

So after a quick Google search of double-loop learning, I came across several pieces of media that have helped me understand the theory better. And while my understanding may not yet be complete, it is more advanced than before I started to look.

I found this flow chart, which seems to explain the theory pretty well. The crux seeming to be that I must get past defensive reasoning when facing the problem. Perhaps my reasoning might be, “I am very good with the English language. My VCE results say so, as have my teachers and most people who read what I write. Similarly, I am able to read complex academic works and understand them. It is unacceptable that I am unable to understand the theory in this article, as surely I am capable of understanding it through reading it alone. I will read it and reread it till the theory makes more clear sense.” For to admit that I am unable to understand it through reading alone would be a reflection of my weak grasp on the English language. Once I move past this, and admit that I have a developing understanding of English rather than a developed understanding of it, I may be able to move forward in my understanding by approaching it via different media mediums.

I also found this video. Apart from what seemed like hours of unnecessary footage of the woman working out, the message was similar to that of the flow chart. The woman had two problems: she couldn’t get any breakfast and a creature was throwing bananas at her. Her solution was to keep running (I assume, till the shop opened) and try and avoid the creature by moving away from it. This solution is single-loop learning, as she accepts that the creature will continue to pester her and that she is hungry. After a “what if…”¬† break in narrative, she employs double-loop learning, where she changes her perspective on the banana throwing problem in order to transform it into a solution for her other problem: hunger. This way, both problems are solved as she is no longer hungry and the bananas are now welcomed rather than being rejected.

This other video was much more concise, and was more specifically business related. It challenged us to ask the question, “Why?” when faced with a problem that couldn’t be fixed because it “just couldn’t”. If it required a breaking of company policy in order to fix a problem, rather than adapting the solution in order to stay within policy guidelines, the better response would be to question if or not the policy was actually beneficial, rather than to assume it was correct simply because it had been the standard and enduring policy for a number of years.

So in essence and summary, the theory of double-loop learning when opposed to single-loop learning, is that you must take a step back from the parameters of the problem and test if or not those parameters actually have any value in being there. If I receive a a bad coffee, rather than accepting the coffee is bad and fixing it by pouring sugar into it to make it drinkable, I should go to the¬†barista and tell him that the coffee wasn’t great, and perhaps he needed to do something else when making it. Or maybe I even just make my own coffee and bring it from home.

Basically, don’t get stuck in your old ways. Be open to change.