What Is Single, Double And Triple Loop Learning?


Friday, 10.06pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer. – William S. Burroughs

I have now started a programme of research that is going to take the next five or six years and I have to spend the first couple of years learning all that I can about the area that I want to study.

It’s worth getting clear, then, on what we mean by learning.

Let’s say you learn to do something, like bricklaying. There’s a process to it that I don’t know about at all. But I imagine it goes something like this.

You have to learn about lines, straight ones and curves. You need to know how to keep things level. And then you have to put down bricks, one after another, and glue them together with cement.

Something like that.

Single loop learning is about learning how to lay bricks well. Doing a good, clean job. It’s a skill, a trade.

I once saw an invention that helped people lay bricks and cement them in faster, but I don’t see that in practice.

Perhaps it’s a matter of pride that a good bricklayer can do it with their hands and they get better over time.

Double loop learning takes a step back and asks why we’re doing what we’re doing. What’s the difference between a brick wall and a brick arch and a brick fence?

Why would you use a single skin rather than a double and why would you lay bricks in a particular way, offset on each row rather than in a pile?

This kind of learning helps you ask why you’re doing something and if there are other options, or what’s the best option and what the reasons might be to do one thing or another.

Then there’s triple loop learning which is seeing this whole process of thinking and reflecting on it.

This is when you ask yourself why brick – why not straw or wood?

Why a house built in the open rather than one built in a factory and assembled on site?

In this day and age do we need brick – or should houses be 3-d printed instead?

But why would people change, what if they love their brick history and don’t want to see it disappear?

These kinds of questions are about more than brick and about more than a building – they are about hopes and dreams and fears and changes and need time to reflect and consider and try and experiment.

The thing with learning is that it provides a competitive advantage.

Knowledge is power – people who learn better earn better. Organizations that have people who learn better are run better and work out better.

That’s the theory anyway.

Now, my area of interest has always been around sense making and decision making.

Most decisions aren’t about numbers or money but about people doing things that they think are the right things for them to do.

But we don’t know a great deal about how to get people to think better together.

That’s what I’m going to be thinking about for the next half of this decade.


Karthik Suresh

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