Single- and double-loop learning

Single-loop and double-loop learning


In this blog entry I will discuss the theory of single- and double-loop learning presented by C. Argyris. Furthermore I will explain in what ways the understanding of those learning processes can lead to better organizational outcomes.

In 1978 C. Argyris developed a model that describes two ways that one can learn from one’s experiences, single- and double-loop learning. This model was made to understand how people learn within organizations. Moreover, it can support group development processes, global teamwork as well as intercultural learning.

Single-loop learning is the easiest and most common learning style. It involves using feedback to make continuous adjustments and adaptations, in order to maintain a high performance standard. For example, if a certain action yields results that are different to what one expected, through single-loop learning, one will observe the results and automatically take in feedback, in order to apply a different approach. It is in a sense increasing efficiency by learning out of experience. The more one does something the better one gets at it. This can translate to cost savings, increased revenue and profitability amongst others in a corporate setting.

Double-loop learning is a more complex way of processing information and involves a more sophisticated way of engaging with an experience. It is the ability to challenge and redefine the assumptions underlying performance standards to improve performance (Argyris, 1978).

Argryris used the analogy of a thermostat to controlling the room temperature to explain the difference between both types of learning. In single-loop learning the thermostat will find the optimal way to heat or cool the room to a specific temperature. Double-loop learning however will challenge and redefine the controlling variables by questioning whether the specified temperature is suitable for the people in the room. I find this analogy very applicable to Singapore where I experienced that stores, as well as the university are effective in cooling entire buildings. However, in most cases these buildings are too cold. Through single-loop learning Singaporeans managed to efficiently cool there buildings, but second-loop learning is needed to redefine the underlying performance standards. Intercultural interactions are another useful application of this theory that I experienced first hand on my exchange at the NUS. Our values and beliefs are deeply rooted within our cultural background. Moreover, so are the assumptions we make about what strategies will be successful in a given situation. When being confronted with an intercultural misunderstanding, it is natural to react with one’s default behaviour. In case this is not effective, one will reassess one’s strategythrough single-loop learning, until one finds a solution that works. This may be enough in many environments. In intercultural behaviours however, this strategy has higher chances of being unsuccessful. These situations require a deeper assessment of the situation and strategy. To have a constructive outcome, one has to modify and adapt some of one’s own goals and beliefs to create an attitude that is open to many cultural values and application methods (Henderson, 2013).

Both single-loop as well as double-loop learning can be effective in the right situation. Single-loop learning is all about increasing efficiency and learning by doing. Double loop on the other hand looks at the big picture and tries to steer efforts in the right direction. Currently the world of business is dominated by single-loop learning and double-loop learning is mostly applied after a crisis(McLucas, 2003). It is important however one understands double-loop learning and applies it regularly to make sure that one’s effort is put to optimal use.




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Argyris, C. (1978). Organizational Learning.

Henderson, S. (2013). Evaluating Double Loop Learning of Cultural Competencies.

McLucas, A. C. (2003). Decision Making: Risk Management, Systems Thinking and Situation Awareness. Argos Press.











The world is not small for everyone

The world is not small for everyone


In this blog entry I will discuss the problem many employees face in solving all kinds of job relate task because of limited connectedness. The focus is on a specific group of employees, namely young inexperienced ones and minorities.


I find this topic particular interesting, since we students will be these young and inexperienced employees one day. The discussion is mainly based on the paper “ The world is not small for everyone: inequity in searching for knowledge in organizations “ by Sigh et al. The notion of “small world” is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. This theory can also be reflected onto a corporation and its employees. This is an interesting theory in the field of organisational behaviour, as it explain to some extend why minorities and young employees deliver an inferior performance than their colleagues.


Why is it that some individuals are at disadvantage when it comes to searching for information or help in an organization? The paper mentions two main reasons, periphery status and homophily. First, the periphery status reflects the position of the employee in the corporate network. Being on the periphery is the opposite of being in the core. The people on the periphery are mostly minorities or young and inexperienced. They are poorly connected and don’t know anyone in the organization. Second, these employees engage in homophilous search. This means that they contact colleagues like themselves, already in the periphery of the network, with as little knowledge as themselves.


Why is it important to understand this problem? The periphery status and the effect of homophily will make it very hard for these employees to gather information in the organization. This will result negatively on their work performance. Moreover, it will affect their career progression and pay.


Sigh et al. found statistical evidence for all of the above mentioned claims about the peripheral status and homophily. They measured in their study how many connections it takes an employee with a problem to find another employee in the organization, who can provide the correct solution to that problem. The idea behind this is that, the shorter the chain, the better connected this individual is. The study showed that employees from a minority group or ones with short job tenure had significantly longer chains. Furthermore, they found that employees are more likely to select intermediaries with whom they share a characteristic, which supports the homopihly argument.


For a company to preform well it needs all of its employees to be highly productive. However, many employees face constraints by their peripheral status and the effect of homphily. It is important for managers to understand and tackle these problems. One solution could be to have a flat hierarchical structure. This would enable people of the periphery to connect more easily to ones on the core of the organisational structure.



Singh, J., Hansen, M. & Podolny, J.M. (2010). The world is not small for everyone: inequity in searching for knowledge in organizations, Management Science, Vol.56, No.9, p.1415-1438.