Organisational Change Management Volume 2

10. Zero, Single and Double Loop Learning

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organisational development change management

. Zero, single and double loop learning are all variations of the learning cycle involving 4 stages, as initially articulated by Dewey, ie learning from past experiences and observing, discovering , inventing (new action) and producing (those actions)

. Single loop learning is about getting the job done within the constraints of existing policy, strategies, etc. This can at times reinforce bad habits. Sometimes single loop learning is called reactive learning, ie

"...thinking is governed by established mental models and doing is governed by established habits of action......downloading habitual ways of thinking, of continuing to see the world within the familiar categories we are comfortable with. We discount interpretations and options for action that are different from those we know and trust. We act to defend our interests. In reactive learning, actions are actually re-enacted habits, and we invariably end up reinforcing pre-established mental models. Regardless of the outcome, we end up being "right". At best, we can get better at what we have always done......Learning based on the past suffices when the past is a good guide to the future. But it leaves us blind to profound shifts when the whole new forces shaping change arise..."

Peter Senge et al, 2005

. Double-loop learning occurs when an error is identified and corrected by modifying underlying norms, policies and objectives. It involves a readiness to question assumptions. The steps are

i) look at the espoused theory (organisation's statements, such as vision, mission, values, etc) and compare it with what is actually done, ie why is it done. This results in questioning assumptions that constrain decision-making

ii) ask: are you doing things right? Is there an alternative approach? Double-loop learning does not advocate a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, it requires our willingness to revisit and experiment with the organisation's statements (vision, mission and values), goals and strategies

iii) innovation and mapping of new strategies are part of double-loop learning as they help deal with the context in which problems arise

(sources: Phil Boas, 1999; Brad Hatch, 2006; Peter Senge et al, 2005)


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