EDEV_505 Week 7_2

If an organisation wishes to encourage triple-loop learning according to Tosey, Visser and Saunders’s (2011) interpretation of Bateson’s third order learning, most, if not all, aspects of an organisation may be considered as a type of evidence. A serious level of deliberate cognitive engagement with erstwhile occluded facets of the organisation is necessary due to the need to uncover hidden values, attitudes and cultural aspects that characterise the organisation (Argyris, 2002; Cowan & Todorovic, 2000; Morrill, 2007; Schein, 2004). Even an aspect as innocuous as the temporal location of the curriculum offers insights into the beliefs about the nature of the organisation and can be utilised as a tool for organisational reflection (Tagg, 2007). Yet, the insight that any organisational element can be a potential source of evidence requires a mindset that is open to self-reflection and accepts the task of critical self-transformation. Given that many professionals fail to address their deficiencies (Argyris, 2002) the first challenge, therefore, is take the step towards self-enquiry. Once this step has been made, a myriad of challenges awaits the organisational leader.

(The initial locus of transformational change may be with the individual organisational leader [Teeroovengadum & Teeroovengadum, 2012] or be an attempt to induce change in the wider, but still limited, area [Hannah & Lester, 2009]. I will assume an organisation-level change in this exposition.)

Such challenges fall into two broad categories; psychological and technical. Psychological challenges include arrogance, self-preservation, positionality of self with the dominant and subordinate organisational cultures and positionality of self in relation to organisational roles (Argyris, 2002). The human instinct for self-preservation, for example, generate associated actions that include false rationalisation and defence mechanism building (Argyris, 2002). Overcoming psychological barriers to personal growth is argued to be fundamental to achieving institutional transformation (Teeroovengadum & Teeroovengadum, 2012). Technical challenges include the ability to analyse the base data to convert it into information and appropriate knowledge (London & York, 2009). Change is predicated on the notion that present actions result in an unsatisfactory effect: when results are good, change is not required (c.f. Tosey, Visser & Saunder’s description of Bateson’s Learning 0 in “skilled, unconscious performance, and habituation”, 2011, p. 289). The technical knowledge of which instrument to apply during analysis relates to the question of whether or not an organisation is “doing things in a right way” (Petrovic, 2012, emphasis added, p. 75). Allied to this single-loop learning notion is the development question that critiques if the actual actions are the right ones to do (Petrovic, 2012).

The curriculum policy change at TBGU was successful in the sense that it was implemented, but it was unsuccessful because while the process was alienating the professoriate, it utilised a single-loop learning process that merely replaced one curriculum element for another without engaging in an attempt to uncover the values, attitudes and beliefs that led to the problem of student demotivation and frustration. Petrovic (2012) catalogues some questions that single-loop learning leaders use in managing change, including; “What can one find out?” and “What may one do?” (p.78). These questions delineated TBGU’s policy change formulation, and effectively restricted the available information to a narrow band of possibilities. Furthermore, the view of what constitutes a stakeholder in the change management process was limited to the Board of Directors (BoD), the faculty dean and the faculty professoriate, and bypassed any input from other potential stakeholders who had a primary or secondary interest in the curricular change (Maric, 2013).

This demarcated vision of stakeholders also led to organisational cultural difficulties. The professoriate was positioned in support of the BoD without their consent. Yet, the BoD (and the installed faculty dean) represented the macro culture of TBGU (Hannah & Lester, 2009) replete with their own codes, cultures and purposes. These clashed violently with those of the meso-level professoriate and with many individuals who were excluded from the process. As a self-governing “social systems in complex organizational contexts … [TBGU is] inherently unstable and unpredictable” (Hannah & Lester, 2009, p. 35). The BoD would have benefitted greatly from abandoning its top-down mechanisms and attempting to instigate change by “putting people first” (Teeroovengadum & Teeroovengadum, 2012, p. 1).

The question of how might have TBGU addressed the change process differently must remain conjecture. However, for deeper double-loop learning to occur, various mechanisms can be considered. Change is primarily the mediation of action and time. During time, there is the opportunity for specified actions to influence the possibility of appropriate change. Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning cycle offers a model in which reflection can be utilised to effect more directed learning. A cognitive-constructivist approach views learning as a process of self-mediation between experiences and the development of an epistemology that makes sense of those experiences (Patterson, 2007). At the root of this epistemology is the notion of relearning through a dialectical process whereby the tensions inherent in conflict and difference generate a heightened awareness (Kolb & Kolb, 2005). Essential in these processes is the action of observing, or reflection (Patterson, 2007). Yeo (2006) describes how Kolb’s model of experiential learning can be applied to a learning institution which aids its transformation to a learning organisation. He states that this transformation can occur when organisations: create the building blocks of a psychology that allows for transformation by reflecting on their practices (c.f. Argyris, 2002, who describes theories-in-use and how they differ from espoused theories); use their experiences as material for reflection in a single-loop learning cycle; and “design new actions” (Yeo, 2006, p. 397) that are not based simply on first-order available choices but that exhibit evidence of attitudinal developments that aim to reconceptualise their “governing principles” (Tosey, Visser & Saunders, 2011).


Argyris, C. (2002). Teaching smart people how to learn. Organization Development., 4(2).

Cowan, C. C., & Todorovic, N. (2000). Spiral dynamics: the layers of human values in strategy. Strategy & Leadership, 28(1), 4–12.

Hannah, S. T., & Lester, P. B. (2009). A multilevel approach to building and leading learning organizations. Leadership Quarterly, 20(1), 34–48. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2008.11.003

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc.

Kolb, A. Y., & Kolb, D. A. (2005). Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 4(2), 193–212. http://doi.org/10.5172/jmo.16.1.100

Longden, B., & Yorke, M. (2009). Institutional research. Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 13(3), 66–70. http://doi.org/10.1080/13603100903068957

Maric, I. (2013). Stakeholder Analysis of Higher Education Institutions. Interdisciplinary Description of Complex Systems, 11(2), 217–226. http://doi.org/10.7906/indecs.11.2.4

Morrill, R. L. (2007). Strategic Leadership: Integrating Strategy and Leadership in Colleges and Universities. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, INC. and the American Council on Education.

Patterson, J. (2014). Walking with intangibles: Experiencing organisational learning. Journal of Management Development, 33(6), 564–579. http://doi.org/10.1108/JMD-04-2014-0036

Petrovic, S. (2012). Critically generated knowledge – the Triple Loop learning result. Management, 62, 73–82. http://doi.org/10.7595/management.fon.2011.0002

Schein, E. H. (2004). Organizational Culture and Leadership (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. http://doi.org/10.1080/09595230802089917

Tagg, J. (2007). Double-loop learning in higher education. Change, (July/ August), 36–41.

Teeroovengadum, V., & Teeroovengadum, V. (2013). The need for individual transformation in building a learning organisation in the 21st century.International Journal of Learning, 18(12), 1–14.

Tosey, P., Visser, M., & Saunders, M. N. (2011). The origins and conceptualizations of “triple-loop” learning: A critical review. Management Learning, 43(3), 291–307. http://doi.org/10.1177/1350507611426239

Yeo, R. K. (2006). Learning institution to learning organization. Journal of European Industrial Training, 30(5), 396–419. http://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/BIJ-10-2012-0068


About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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