Loop Learning
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Loop Learning

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A brief explanation of Argyris & Schon's Loop Learning model.

A brief explanation of Argyris & Schon's Loop Learning model.

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  • As we go through life, we perceive what happens in the world around us through our senses. We create sense by bringing the new information into our framework of understanding and inferring meaning. I CAN EXPLAIN IT. THIS IS WHAT IT IS. The information becomes part of our knowledge. We then often give a value to this knowledge by judging it against our systems of beliefs. HOW DO I FEEL ABOUT IT? IS IT GOOD OR BAD? This then might provoke a response WHAT SHOULD I DO ABOUT IT? SHOULD I ACKNOWLEDGE IT? SHOULD I TRY AND CHANGE IT OR NOT? We can compare this to Kolb’s learning cycle. Although the process we have just described may well happen more instinctively there are clear similarities. We PERCEIVE things during concrete experience. We INFER things through reflective observation. Abstract conceptualisation does not necessarily require JUDGEMENT, but active experimentation is certainly a RESPONSE.Most of the time we engage in this cycle without conscious effort. We meet new people and react to them and the way they interact with us. We watch an item of news on the television and respond according to our judgment. We experience a situation at work and make decisions.However, it is hard to argue that our perceptions of the world are infallible. A strong example of this might be the way supporters of opposing sports teams view a moment of dispute during a competition. They PERCEIVE differently, although they observe the same thing. It’s as if we have an INTERPRETIVE lens causes us to see things in a certain way. Normally we are unaware that this lens exists. But sometimes something happens that ‘shakes’ our universe. Something doesn’t ‘fit’ our framework. At these times we can either ignore the evidence, or explain it away through some imaginative rationalisation, or can start to ask questions. To DOUBT our inferences, QUESTION our judgments, and suspend our RESPONSES. But it starts with PERCEPTION.
  • Argyris and Schön developed a construct that identifies two ways of responding to experience. Type I behaviour sees the learning operating within the conception of the actor’s world. This is made up of the different criteria of judgment that dictates how the actor sees the world. These are called the GOVERNING VARIABLES. In professional terms, these might be the norms of working practice, or the values of the particular profession. Operating within these governing variables is called SINGLE LOOP LEARNING. Experiences are selected and interpreted in a way which reinforces them. This is called SELF-SEALING BEHAVIOUR. This may give rise to a quiet, repetitive, and unimaginative cycle of professional practice. It is also likely to view anything that disturbs the status quo with considerable suspicion.Type II behaviour questions breaks out of the governing variable, and stops seeing them as beyond question. Experience is used to test understandings – not to prove that we were ‘right all along.’ It adds a double loop to the learning.It is an example of truly ‘THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX’Double and single loop learning are useful constructs when considering why and how we might usefully use reflection when engaging with experience.


  • 1. Loop Learning
    (based on Argyris & Schön, 1974)
    Concrete experience
    Active Experimentation
    Abstract Conceptualisation
  • 2. double loop learning
    Loop Learning
    (based on Argyris & Schön, 1974)
    single loop learning