Re: double-loop learning
Fri, 01 Nov 1996 23:13:48 +0000

"Gary F. Blanchard, MPA" <> wrote:

> I would like to benefit from your conversation, but am not sure so far
> that I have actually seen documented what this 'double-loop' phenomenon
> is all about, according to its apparent inventor, Argyris.
> Did I just miss that, or has it in fact not been presented here?
> If not, could it be, with appropriate reference?

Here is the reference and the relevant excerpts:

Argyris, C. (1977). Organizational Learning and Management
Information Systems. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 2(2),

"When a thermostat turns the heat on or off, it is acting in keeping
with the program of orders given to it to keep the room temperature,
let us say, at 68 degrees. This is single loop learning, because the
underlying program is not questioned. The overwhelming amount of
learning done in an organization is single loop because it is designed
to identify and correct errors so that the job gets done and the
action remains within stated policy guidelines. The massive technology
of management information systems, quality control systems, and audits
of quality control systems is designed for single loop learning." (p.

"The trouble arises when the technology is not effective and when the
underlying objectives and policies must be questioned. Let us examine
the first case. A budgetary control system is designed to increase the
likelihood that certain objectives will be met. If the objectives are
not met but the causes can be corrected without questioning the
original objectives around which it was designed or without
questioning the competence and loyalty of those using it, then the
error will, in all likelihood, be corrected. However, if the
underlying objectives require re-examination or if someone or some
department is going to get in trouble, it will be much more difficult
to identify and to correct the errors. The former case is the
equivalent of the thermostat following its program and orders. The
latter is the equivalent of the thermostat questioning in order: that
is what is meant by double loop learning. " (p. 113-114)

"Most organizations, often without realizing it, create systems of
learning that suppress double loop inquiry and make it very difficult
for even a well designed information system to be effective." (p.

"...[O]rganizations manifest learning systems that inhibit the
detection and correction of errors that involves the questioning of
the existing learning system." (p. 120)

"[T]here are inherent contradictions embedded in organizations that
cannot be eliminated because they are inherent in the use of
information to manage organizations and in the limited capacities of
individuals for information processing." (p. 121)


Yogesh Malhotra
Yogesh Malhotra E-Mail:
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