The Open UniversitySkip to content

Triple-loop learning and conversing with reality

Reynolds, Martin (2014). Triple-loop learning and conversing with reality. Kybernetes, 43(9/10) pp. 1381–1391.

Full text available as:
PDF (Accepted Manuscript) - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (462kB) | Preview
DOI (Digital Object Identifier) Link:
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


Purpose: Three levels of learning developed by Gregory Bateson in the tradition of second-order cybernetics have in-part been translated in terms of double-loop and triple-loop learning, particularly in the tradition of systems thinking. Learning III and triple-loop learning have gained less popularity since they deal with less tangible issues regarding virtues of wisdom and justice respectively. This paper provides a learning device – the systems thinking in practice heuristic which helps to retrieve the cybernetic concern for wisdom in association with an often forgotten systems concern for real-world power relations.

Approach: Using ‘conversation’ as a metaphor the heuristic is introduced based on three orders of conversation. Drawing on ideas of systemic triangulation, another heuristic device – the systemic triangulator – is used to surface issues of power in the three orders of conversation. Some manifestations in using the systems thinking in practice heuristic for supporting postgraduate systems learning are demonstrated.

Findings: Some key complementarities between conventionally opaque cybernetic issues of wisdom and systems issues of power are revealed, and used proactively to explore more effective coaching of systems thinking in practice.

Implications: Cybernetics and Systems thinking may benefit from being grounded more in understanding, engaging with, and transforming social realities. The heuristics provide practical experiential and meaningful learning through conversation, and more social premium for the study of cybernetics and systems thinking.

Originality/value: The heuristics – systems thinking in practice, and the systemic triangulator provides an innovative cyber-systemic space for learning and action.

Item Type: Journal Item
Copyright Holders: Emerald Group Publishing Limited
ISSN: 0368-492X
Extra Information: Special Issue: A circularity in learning
Keywords: systemic triangulation; systemic triangulator; systems thinking in practice; triple-loop learning
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) > Engineering and Innovation
Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Research Group: Innovation, Knowledge & Development research centre (IKD)
Item ID: 41373
Depositing User: Martin Reynolds
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2014 16:48
Last Modified: 07 Dec 2018 15:31
Share this page:


Altmetrics from Altmetric

Citations from Dimensions

Download history for this item

These details should be considered as only a guide to the number of downloads performed manually. Algorithmic methods have been applied in an attempt to remove automated downloads from the displayed statistics but no guarantee can be made as to the accuracy of the figures.

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU