Thursday, 4 November 2010

Understanding LA officials' thinking: Single-loop learning

I have to credit H. for finding this information while he was looking for something else. Thanks, H.

This is an important blogpost to me because the ideas I will mention to you go a long way to explaining what I don't understand.

I don't understand LA officials' thinking. Basically, I have questioned whether or not LA officials and lots of other institution-based people think at all. Perhaps I am a little relieved that, according to Chris Argyrus and Donald Schon, inhabitants of that strange grey world actually do think, but they may not think as we think.

"Where something goes wrong, it is suggested, an initial port of call for many people is to look for another strategy that will address and work within the governing variables. In other words, given or chosen goals, values, plans and rules are operationalized rather than questioned."

That, in a small package, is single-loop thinking. When something is a problem, the urge is to 'fix' it not to examine what is wrong with it. "An alternative response is to question to governing variables themselves, to subject them to critical scrutiny." That is double-loop thinking.

We often mention it ourselves. Why do LAs keep trying to 'fix' schools when the very assumptions underlying those heaving chambers of sheer torture DO NOT WORK as a place where children learn and question and grow? Why do LAs not leave home educators alone to continue our double-loop thinking? Why do institutions like schools and their overlords LAs never question why they do what it is that they do? Why do they never look at the outcomes which appear in the children themselves? Why does no one stop and say enough is enough - we were and are wrong, we need to change?

One answer is that single-loop learning is easier for institutions.

"When the error detected and corrected permits the organization to carry on its present policies or achieve its presents objectives, then that error-and-correction process is single-loop learning. Single-loop learning is like a thermostat that learns when it is too hot or too cold and turns the heat on or off. The thermostat can perform this task because it can receive information (the temperature of the room) and take corrective action. Double-loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives."

"Single-loop learning seems to be present when goals, values, frameworks and, to a significant extent, strategies are taken for granted. The emphasis is on ‘techniques and making techniques more efficient’ (Usher and Bryant: 1989: 87) Any reflection is directed toward making the strategy more effective."

No one questions whether or not children should go to school. Officials just benchmark schooling as THE education, no matter whether or not schooling actually produces rounded individuals who can function in any situation relatively effectively or analyse new data to effect changes. The techniques are to get bums on seats. The point that the bums don't wish to be there is ignored in favour of bums on seats regardless of what the bums see as fitting for themselves so the bums use their legs and walk out. Again, no reflection takes place. The single-loop kicks in. We should have bums on seats therefore make the parents of the bums pay when the bums leave.

Argyris and Schon compare and contrast single- and double-loop learning:

"The former involves following routines and some sort of preset plan – and is both less risky for the individual and the organization, and affords greater control. The latter is more creative and reflexive, and involves consideration notions of the good. Reflection here is more fundamental: the basic assumptions behind ideas or policies are confronted… hypotheses are publicly tested… processes are disconfirmable not self-seeking. "

So organisations tend to be single loop because - well - it's easier. They aren't required to account for how much money they spend in - what from the outside seem like - ridiculous or misguided projects. Their people aren't navel-gazing to study the necessity of following policies that a cat would find objectionable. They self-seek. They conform. They obey. And then they are promoted.

"The focus of much of Chris Argyris’ intervention research has been to explore how organizations may increase their capacity for double-loop learning. He argues that double-loop learning is necessary if practitioners and organizations are to make informed decisions in rapidly changing and often uncertain contexts (Argyris 1974; 1982; 1990). As Edmondson and Moingeon (1999:160) put it:

The underlying theory, supported by years of empirical research, is that the reasoning processes employed by individuals in organizations inhibit the exchange of relevant information in ways that make double-loop learning difficult – and all but impossible in situations in which much is at stake. This creates a dilemma as these are the very organizational situations in which double-loop learning is most needed."

Nissan may go for a suggestion box where the lowliest worker can deposit his interesting ideas and be noticed. Institutions like LA would no doubt think the suggestion box beyond the pale. You get the best thoughts from workers who have incentives to think. You don't encourage thought from individuals who are cogs in the machine.

"The next step that Argyris and Schön take is to set up two models that describe features of theories-in-use that either inhibit or enhance double-loop learning. The belief is that all people utilize a common theory-in-use in problematic situations. This they describe as Model I – and it can be said to inhibit double-loop learning. Model II is where the governing values associated with theories-in-use enhance double-loop learning."

It's not a surprise that Argyris and Schon find that most institutions use thinking from Model I.

"It involves ‘making inferences about another person’s behaviour without checking whether they are valid and advocating one’s own views abstractly without explaining or illustrating one’s reasoning’ (Edmondson and Moingeon 1999:161). The theories-in-use are shaped by an implicit disposition to winning (and to avoid embarrassment). The primary action strategy looks to the unilateral control of the environment and task plus the unilateral protection of self and others. As such Model I leads to often deeply entrenched defensive routines (Argyris 1990; 1993) – and these can operate at individual, group and organizational levels. Exposing actions, thoughts and feelings can make people vulnerable to the reaction of others. However, the assertion that Model I is predominantly defensive has a further consequence:

Acting defensively can be viewed as moving away from something, usually some truth about ourselves. If our actions are driven by moving away from something then our actions are controlled and defined by whatever it is we are moving away from, not by us and what we would like to be moving towards. Therefore our potential for growth and learning is seriously impaired. If my behaviour is driven by my not wanting to be seen as incompetent, this may lead me to hide things from myself and others, in order to avoid feelings of incompetence. For example, if my behaviour is driven by wanting to be competent, honest evaluation of my behaviour by myself and others would be welcome and useful. (Anderson 1997)"

Don't be embarassed by your environment. Control it.
Protect yourself and your co-workers.
Win at all costs, regardless of hurt to others 'outside'.
Never expose your feelings or thoughts. Stay safe by siding with the organisation, whatever it does.

I think we, home educators, would vastly prefer Model II.

"The significant features of Model II include the ability to call upon good quality data and to make inferences. It looks to include the views and experiences of participants rather than seeking to impose a view upon the situation. Theories should be made explicit and tested, positions should be reasoned and open to exploration by others. In other words, Model II can be seen as dialogical – and more likely to be found in settings and organizations that look to shared leadership. It looks to:

Emphasize common goals and mutual influence.
Encourage open communication, and to publicly test assumptions and beliefs.
Combine advocacy with inquiry (Argyris and Schön 1996; Bolman and Deal 1997: 147-8)."

"Exhibit 2: Model II characteristics

The governing values of Model II include:

Valid information
Free and informed choice
Internal commitment

Strategies include:
Sharing control
Participation in design and implementation of action

Operationalized by:

Attribution and evaluation illustrated with relatively directly observable data
Surfacing conflicting view
Encouraging public testing of evaluations

Consequences should include:

Minimally defensive relationships
High freedom of choice
Increased likelihood of double-loop learning
(Taken from Anderson 1997)"

It strikes me as I'm typing this how far schools stray from the rosy path of Model II or double- loop learning. In fact, taking a gander at the consequences again, I can see that schools:

maximise defensive relationships
inhibit freedom of choice and
decrease the likelihood of double-loop learning.

It seems unlikely that LAs would opt for double-loop learning when the institutions they watch over do anything but.

Argyrus and Schon go on. I'll cover their thoughts on individuals and their organisations next time.

Everything you see here that isn't mine has been taken from

Have a peek at it. Just to keep yourselves in the loop

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