Understanding of theories of action, double loop-learning and organization learning (Week 1.2 Reading, Chris Arygris)


In this week’s reading, our networked media students have learnt to understand concepts of thinking and action associated with organizations and people presented through Chris’ Arygris’ perspective in his blog “Theories of action, double loop-learning and organization learning”

Theories of action: Theories in use and espoused theories

Chris arygris has proposed that individuals general hold two value of theories related to thier actions. The first being espoused theory, and the latter being the theory they have used. (Agyris, 2012). Espoused theory relates to the theory they present to other individuals regarding their course of action in a hypothetical situation

For example, when someone is asked how he/she would behave in a certain circumstance, they may give a supposed theory of behaviour whereas their course of action might be completely different in the actual situation itself.  (Agyris, 2012)

Understanding this distinction allows us to question the extent to which an espoused theory of action truly reflects our actual behaviour and furthermore asks us to question the extent to which an espoused theory can be utilized

As such, delving into further attempting to bridge the gap betwen esposued theories and theories used, Argyris has indicated three key elements that work in identifying the aspects involved in the process of action(Argyris, 2012):

  • Governing Variables: the values and variables that people intend to keep within acceptable limits that are affected by the carrying out of an action
  • Action Strategies: The plans and moves used by people to keep their governing variables within an acceptable range
  • Consequences: The unintended or results of a person’s actions

Through these elements, it can be understood how individuals go about carrying theories of action. Ultimately, their action can result in a mismatch of their initial desires (I.E Their espoused theories of action and its intended consequence) or a match between their intention and the outcome, validating their theory in use. (Argyris, 2012)

As such, Argyris proposes two responses to correcting this mismatch which are:

Double Loop and Single Loop Learning

In view of learning from the result of an action, an organization may view the result of their action and change their Action Strategies to accomodate a better Consequence or result. Arygris defines this as Single Loop Learning

However in the event that an organization reflects on the result and rather changes its Governing Variables (this could be policies, regulations, standards), this as defined by ayrgris is double-loop learning.

As such organizations can use either mean of responses to adapt their theories of action in providing their desired consequences and results.

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