Single-Loop and Double-Loop Learning Model

The model describes two ways that we can learn from our experiences and calls these single-loop and double-loop learning.  The model, based on the work of Psychology and Organizational Development Professor, Chrys Argyris can support group development processes, global teamwork, and intercultural learning. Single-loop learning involves connecting a strategy for action with a result. For example, if an action we take yields results that are different to what we expected, through single-loop learning, we will observe the results, automatically take in feedback, and try a different approach.

This cyclical process of applying a new strategy to achieve an expected or desired outcome may occur several times and we may never succeed. Running out of strategies may push us to re-evaluate the deeper governing variables that make us behave the ways we do. Re-evaluating and reframing our goals, values and beliefs is a more complex way of processing information and involves a more sophisticated way of engaging with an experience. This is called double-loop learning and looks at consequences from a wider perspective.

Adapted from interpretations of Argyris's writings: and

Our values and beliefs are deeply rooted to our cultural background, as are the assumptions we make about what strategies will be successful in a given situation, or what outcomes will result from any given action or behavior.  When confronted with an intercultural misunderstanding, it is natural for us to “react” with our default behavior. If this behavior is not effective we will reassess our strategy (through single-loop learning) until we find one that gives a result that makes sense to us. In many environments this may be enough.

In intercultural situations, however, if we do not address the governing variables, deeper beliefs and conceptual frameworks of WHY this outcome makes sense to us, and why we do what we do, we may frequently be unsuccessful.

These situations require a deeper assessment of the situation and our strategy. In cases like these, not only will we evaluate our own goals and beliefs, but also those of the people we interact with. To have a constructive outcome, we may need to modify and adapt some of these variables to create an attitude that is open to many cultural values and application methods.

Both single-loop and double-loop learning are effective in the right situation. In AFS intercultural environments, we need to be receptive to feedback and will often revise not only our strategies, but also our deeper governing variables. Read here for more about the loop learning model and its relation to Experiential Learning method, such as that experienced in AFS.


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