Re: Double-loop learning
Wed, 30 Oct 1996 23:08:23 +0100

Magnus Larsson responds to a query from Robin Hill about "double-loop"
learning, and how it might or might not be related to construing.

I'd welcome further discussion on this concept. To my mind (a rather crabby
one on this issue, I'm afraid) it's characteristic of a number of concepts
used in training and consultancy work, in that, while constituting a useful
heuristic in getting managers to think about the way in which they operate
in situations of rapid change with constrained resources, it simply
_doesn't_ have the rigour to stand up to the kind of analysis which one
would like to undertake in building links with other analytic frameworks
such as pcp.

In other words, it's yet another handy management-training wheeze, divorced
from any solid base in theory, of the kind which gets reinvented every 11
years or so under a slightly new guise. (e.g. "faculty" - "ability" -
"skill" (in the trainer, not the sensory-motor skills, sense) - competence
- competency).

IMHO, the analytic meat and sinew of this notion of "double-loop learning"
lies in the observation (building on Miller, Galanter & Pribram way back in
the 1960s) that the second loop is not simply "another point of view" as
Robin puts it; it's, crucially, in a _hierarchical_ relationship to the
first; a TOTE unit that sits on top of another TOTE unit; in other words,
it permits the individual to _talk about_ what's happening in the first
level of (feedback-governed) learning. In Stafford Beer's terminology, it
supplements the incompleteness (in Goedel's sense) of the language in which
the first-level discourse takes place. In Gordon Pask's cybernetic
terminology, it is described as the upper level of a finite _function_
machine, in the sense that it selects between parameters that govern the
states of a lower-level finite _state_ automaton.

If that sounds useful (see Jankowicz, 1971, for the argument stated
reasonably precisely, and Jankowicz, 1995 for a somewhat more recent return
to the issue in the context of knowledge transfer; the former is easily
obtainable but you might want to give me a shout for an offprint of the
if that sounds useful then it's because it's stated a wee bit more
rigorously, so that comparisons to constructivist formulations become

For example, by elaborating similarities between the metalanguage involved
in "double-loop" learning and the metalevel superordinacies one might
observe in a set of constructs hierarchically arranged (as observed when
one elicits a set of values by means of laddering technique, to arrive at
core-subordinate construct relationships).

Developing the conceptual similarity further, it becomes possible to
explore notions such as _self-referential_ systems in cybernetic thinking,
and the reflexivity which is present in personal construct theory, though
my ideas are a bit half-baked on this latter issue.

That comparison apart, the similarities are a bit simplistic, since they
only gain any sort of analytic or theoretic power by talking in either
cybernetic language (requisite variety in controlling environmental
perturbations) or pcp language (bringing about change by suggesting
alternative behavioural, i.e. lower-level, expressions of relatively
superordinate, core constructs as the feasible alternative to any attempt
to alter the superordinate, core constructs themselves which are for
obvious reasons resistant to change, for example).

The ideas involved in the management-literature representations of
"double-loop learning" in themselves are just too analytically flabby to do
much with, as they stand at present. Oh cripes, how we managerial/
behaviouralist academics keep reinventing the wheel, less effectively on
each iteration... (Another such trivial concept in the current management
literature is "resistance to change", but don't start me off on that one.)

You see what I meant when I said I was feeling crabby on this issue!
That's partly because:
a) I get a bit depressed with the looseness of what passes for theory in
management / management development / O.D. research (and it's my own field
of interest: I'm not engaging in any partiality here!)
b) I hope that the tone of this response might just start up some dialogue
in our mailing list which, (as several people have remarked recently) has
been a bit quiet recently.

Needless to say, this _isn't_ any sort of flame at Robin or Magnus, it's a
simple expression of frustration with the management literature!

And I await further exchanges on this theme with enormous interest. I might
learn something and stop being so bloody opinionated...

Kindest regards,

Devi Jankowicz

Jankowicz, A.Z. (1971) "Strategic management control" _International
Journal of Systems Science_ 1, 3, 201-212.
Jankowicz, A.D. (1995) "Knowledge transfer or meaning creation? Some issues
for knowledge elicitation across cultural boundaries" A paper given at the
Symposium on Cybernetics Factors for Social Economics and Management
Frameworks, 14th International Cybernetics Congress, Namur, Belgium,
August, Proceedings in press.