Double-Loop Learning


Framing human learning in terms of two loops, one procedural and one reflective

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of possible actions and interpretations
  • Knowing is … repertoire of possible actions and interpretations
  • Learner is … self-elaborating agent (individual)
  • Learning is … expanding possibilities
  • Teaching is … reminding; challenging




Double-Loop Learning is an iterative model which posits that higher-order learning involves two processes or loops. The first loop is goal-directed, rule-based, and unreflective (and is associated with an uncritical Theory-in-Use). The second loop is reflective and analytical, enabling the modification of the first loop (and is associated with an explicit Theory in Action).


Double-Loop Learning is a simplified (and, perhaps, over-simplified) derivative of Second-Order Cybernetics.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Chris Argyris

Status as a Theory of Learning

Double-Loop Learning is a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Double-Loop Learning is not a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

As noted above, Double-Loop Learning is a simplified derivative of Second-Order Cybernetics, and so it could be argued to have a scientific basis through that association. It could also be argued to be a regression – that is, counter-scientific.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2019). “Double-Loop Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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