LOs and Metanoia - a Further Note on Metanoia LO27316

From: Artur F. Silva (artsilva@mail.eunet.pt)
Date: 09/28/01

Linked to LO25939

Dear Lo-learners:

Please see below my next post of the series on "LOs and Metanoia"



A Search for LO's and Metanoia

Part III The Metanoia Concept

III.1.1 First Notes on Metanoia (conclusion)

A preliminary comment

In the previous post I began a reflection on the concept of metanoia, as a
profound change of mind, a change in the paradigm or "world view" of a
person, a community or an organization. I referred to Authors that, in
different domains, analyzed "profound changes" and compared them to
"trivial" changes.

I have referred to Piaget's analysis of the evolution of intelligence in
children, through "accommodation", as a process of successive
"reequilibrations" of mental models, in different stages or phases, ending
in the "formal stage" and to Apostel's hypothesis of a post-formal,
dialogic, stage. I also referred to Watzlavick's distinction between
"first order" and "second order changes", and to Khun's distinction
between "normal science" ("puzzle resolution" within an "accepted
paradigm") and "scientific revolutions" (a process of "profound paradigm
shift" within a scientific "community of practice"). I have claimed that
even if the word metanoia was note used by any of those Authors, the
concept could be used to understand those "profound changes".

Those of you that are so kind to follow this series of posts are probably
waiting that I will refer in this post to the analysis of the Italian
sociologist Alberoni on the subject of metanoia. But in order to relate
LO's and metanoia, as I want to do in the last post of Part III, I need to
make explicit the relation between the conceptions I have referred earlier
and the question of individual and organizational learning. So I will
refer in this post to Argyris and Schon's distinction of single-loop and
double-loop learning, and will delay to the next post the analysis of
Alberoni's conception on metanoia. Please consider this post as a
conclusion of the previous one and allow me to begin in sequence with
point 7.

7. Argyris and Schon's single-loop and double-loop learning

All the perspectives I have referred until now (in Part III) address some
sort of "profound paradigm shift". But they have not referred explicitly
to learning. That is even true of Piaget and Apostel that were more
interest in the changes of mental structures than in the processes of
learning (indeed they considered themselves "genetic epistemologists" more
than "genetic psychologists"). The closer that we could come to learning,
as we have seen in the previous post, was through comments made by Senge
and Harrison Owen that "all learning implies change, and all change
implies learning". I think that this statement is true but, unless we make
a clear distinction between two completely different types of learning
(that match the two different types of change we have addressed), the
statement can end being a useless truism. To clarify this question, we
must now move to conceptions that clearly address questions of individual
and organizational learning and make the same type of distinction we have
observed before.

We all know that we do not need to go out of this list to find someone
that clearly makes that type of distinction. I am referring to At de
Lange's distinction between "digestive learning" and "emergent learning".
I think that At would agree that "digestive learning" can be related with
Piaget's "assimilation" concept, with "normal science, and with "first
order changes" and "emergent learning" with "accommodation", "scientific
revolution" and "second order changes".

Due to the general architecture of this series of posts, I prefer to refer
mainly to the distinction between "single-loop learning" and "double-loop
learning" that Argyris and Schon introduced in the organizational learning
literature, back in 1974, in "Theory in Practice" (TP) -- a book that I
will refer extensively in part IV.

Indeed Argyris and Schon took the distinction between single-loop learning
and double-loop learning from Ashby (1952) and Bateson (1958). As the
referred authors, they also used the example of the thermostat. "When the
household temperature oscillates around a steady temperature, the system
may be said to engage in a single-loop learning. When the householder
intervenes to change the setting of the thermostat, the learning involved
is double-loop". (TP, pg.19)

"In single-loop learning, we learn to maintain the field of constancy of
learning to design action that satisfy existing governing variables. In
double-loop learning we learn to change the field of constancy itself.
Double-loop learning does not supersede single-loop learning. Single-loop
learning enables us to avoid continuing investment in the highly
predictable activities that make up the bulk of our lives; but the
theory-builder becomes a prisoner of his programs if he allows them to
continue unexamined indefinitely. Double-loop learning changes the
governing variables (the "settings") of one's programs and causes ripples
of change to fare out over one's whole system of theories-in-use." (TP,
Pg. 19)

In a later book (that I will refer in a later post) Argyris explicitly
compares simple-loop learning and double-loop learning with Piaget's
concepts of, respectively, "assimilation" and "accommodation" and with
Khun's concepts of, respectively, "normal science" and "scientific
revolution - paradigm shift". Please note also the reference to the fact
that double-loop learning changes the programs (or models, or paradigms)
"stored" in our heads (or in organizational procedures). This can be
related to Senge's comment on the need to "change he code" that I referred
in a previous mail.

In my opinion, the importance of the distinction between single-loop and
double-loop learning relates to the fact that when we think about
enhancing individual or organizational learning, often we don't think
seriously about that distinction. And the point is that people and
organizations are normally good at single-loop learning -- the scientist
that learns to solve a new puzzle in "normal science", the practitioner or
the organization that learns a new feature to assimilate to previous
concepts, models or paradigms, or the organization that makes a small
change to adapt to trivial changes in the environment.

But practitioners and organizations are not normally so good at
double-loop learning -- at changing their theories, paradigms and models
(individual or shared) to "accommodate" to a reality that has profoundly
changed or to paradigms or models that contradict previously accepted

For me the main question of learning (individual or organizational, at
school or in the work place) is the following -- how to enhance not only,
nor mainly, single-loop learning, but principally double-loop learning? Do
the techniques or disciplines one uses to enhance learning enhance
single-loop or double-loop learning? And if they only enhance single-loop
learning, does this contribute to enhance or to inhibit double-loop
learning? Can we find specific resistance's to double-loop learning, at
the individual and organizational levels, that one should explicitly
address to enhance double-loop learning?

You probably remember from a previous post that Arie de Geus equates
learning companies to long living companies, to those companies that have
survived for centuries, adapting to changes in the economical and
political systems and to wars. Those companies proved to be able to adapt,
to profoundly change, to radically transform, and hence to double-loop

I think that when one talks about LOs it's crucial to clarify that an
organization (or community) that is very good at single-loop learning (or
"digestive learning", as At would say) but bad at double-loop learning
("emergent learning"), will probably not be able to adapt to profound
changes in the environment, as the ones we now experience regularly. We
can say that those organizations have profound learning disabilities and
probably they will not be sustainable in the medium or long term. So they
can not qualify as LOs.

The only organizations that can qualify as learning organizations are the
ones that are able to profoundly change the shared mental models of their
members, engaging in double-loop learning, and profound paradigm shifts,
maybe not permanently, but whenever internal or external changes impose

As individuals and organizations are normally "good enough" at single-loop
learning the main point in creating and sustaining LOs is enhancing
individual and organizational skills in double-loop learning, bypassing
disabilities and resistances in what concerns double-loop learning. If
"learning is transformation", "double-loop learning is profound
transformation", profound paradigm shift, hence, metanoia.

That is the main reason that justifies the search I have undertaken which
is reflected in this series of posts. And that is the reason why I think
it is important to reflect about Alberoni's studies, as he is, as far as I
know, the Author that more profoundly reflected on metanoia and the
metanoiaic stages and processes. Maybe this will help us to later analyze
the individual and organizational learning disabilities and ways to
enhance metanoia and deep learning -- hence to create and maintain
learning organizations.


"Artur F. Silva" <artsilva@mail.eunet.pt>

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