Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Levels of Learning and Change - 2

First Level Change (or single loop learning)

First order change and learning takes place within accepted boundaries; it is adaptive learning that leaves basic values unexamined and unchanged. Emphasis is on information.

First order learning is about changing our actions, which includes changing the way we speak and behave. This results in a traditional approach to problem solving that relies on cause and effect thinking, known as survival or routine learning. If things fall apart we tend to try harder. If our actions are working for us there is no incentive to learn new skills or change our behaviour. However, if we don't produce the results wanted there are three main options:

1. We stop doing it.
2. We modify our actions to do the same things better
3. We do something different

Photographer: Stephen Bond

Second Level Change (or double loop learning)

By contrast, second order change and learning involves critically reflective learning, when we examine the assumptions and values that influence first order learning; this is sometimes called ‘learning about learning’ or ‘thinking about our thinking’.

We look to extract the patterns, principles or rules that will deliver different outcomes. This helps to induce new ways of thinking. Second order learning requires a new observer with different views or the same observer adopting a different way of looking at things. This may require a different way of listening and interpreting experiences. NLP refers to this process as "reframing", a mechanism for changing what we pay attention, how we perceive things or what motivates us.

Photographer: Stephen Bond

Third Level Change (or triple loop learning)

At a deeper level still, when third order learning occurs, it requires a reinvention of identity or a different ‘way of being’ that produces outstanding results. It's not about changing behaviour or our thinking, but coming intuitively to adopt another state of consciousness.

Thinking becomes more strategic as it reflects a multi-dimensional perspective. It is creative, and involves a deep awareness of alternative world-views and ways of doing things. It is, as Einstein suggests, a shift of consciousness. It is this transformative or strategic learning, both at individual and collective levels, that can generate a radical move towards the sustainable change that's required.

At each level it is possible to see more possibilities for taking effective action. Where you stand matters. To understand how you look at things you need to become a more conscious observer of the way you perceive and make distinctions. It takes more courage to think about how you look at things than it does to just try new actions (2nd level). It's even harder to reflect on how you are being and in what ways you need to reinvent yourself (3rd level). This is where so many personal and cultural change programmes fail. They stimulate and measure activity, but not the inner change that will deliver the transformational change in the whole person that's needed. The result is little or no sustainable change. To do what you have always done will only deliver what you always got before. Real change requires you to become conscious at all three levels - body, thought (language) and mood.

Robert Greenleaf, orginator of Servant Leadership, invites people to consider a domain of leadership grounded in a state of being, not doing. It's not an action (1st level), it's not something that you think about (2nd level), it's an expression of who you are (3rd level). The choice is to serve others or realise your goals through others. We are what we know and know only what we do. So, problems, possibilities and solutions do not exist 'out there' they exist within the minds of people. What is a problem for one person goes unnoticed by others. It is the different moods, concerns, distinctions, intentions and interests of different observers that creates problems, possibilities and solutions. We cannot know everything so we will always be blind to something. Looking 'out there' for someone to blame is futile when the answer lies within ourselves. This is a difficult, sometimes frightening idea for some people to accept that they may be wrong or their model of the world is only partial and full of assumptions.

Photographer: Stephen Bond

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