Cycles, circles and ripples of learning

Last Monday, I gave a one-day workshop [1] on knowledge management, learning and cooperation to help an organisation (and wannabe network) to harness opportunities and to address existing gaps, while focusing on a long term vision that inspires them.

It was a very valuable and useful experience at many levels, not least because it gave me a chance to review my own KM basics and to consider the big picture of learning again… a luxury I don’t often have, being involved in many different projects and activities (and I’m not even emphasising the constant attention spam that Twitter and other means provide).

Perhaps a specifically interesting point for me was the particular combination of learning cycles, circles and ripples (even though I didn’t mention this as such during the workshop) which may be strong drivers to successful learning initiatives and environments:

The learning cycles refer to the sense of continually engaging in iterative cycles of learning where doing is connected to observing to reflecting to reforming (taking on board new insights, ideas) and to planning again to doing again etc. (entering a new cycle).

This is simple ABC of learning and there are plenty of different learning cycles out there – just google a simple image search on learning cycle and you end up with quite a few hits.

One of the many learning cycles one can find on Google

One of the many learning cycles one can find on Google

The circles are perhaps better referred to as learning loops: single, double and triple. There was a recent discussion about these loops on the Pelican initiative mailing list and Irene Guijt mentioned a very nice example of these three learning loops in an article by Marleen Marleveld and Constant Dangbégnon [2] – freakingly dated from as far as 1998!!!

It is useful to use…

  1. Single loop learning: to analyse if we have achieved the goals we set out to achieve and potentially revise our approach to do the same better. This, to me is about being efficient.
  2. Double loop learning: to analyse the assumptions that led us to define a particular goal (and potentially revise the basis of our activities, in other words to do different things to have a better effect. This, to me, is about being effective – but perhaps as a point in time.

    Single / double / triple loop learning
    Single / double / triple loop learning
  3. Triple loop learning: to analyse how we can continually be effective by learning to learn. This concept is only half-baked I think but what seems important is that it is the precondition to being dynamically relevant, i.e. relevant all the time, by reinventing ourselves regularly to come up with the most appropriate way (possible to us) to respond to or anticipate on our environment. The interesting aspect of triple loop learning is the emphasis on transforming oneself and on the importance of questioning oneself deeply to assess what may prevent us from learning more deeply (hence from being yet more relevant).

Finally, the ripples are the different levels at which we are learning, and using the fruit of learning, since there is not much point in learning if not applying its fruits: by ourselves as individuals, with internal teams we’re working directly with, the wider organisation within which we are operating and finally the wider ripples of outsiders we work or interact with. Of course this is a simple picture and we can imagine a much more complex series of learning interactions with various groups in various activities. But the point is: learning happens at different junctions and the interaction of our ripples sharpens it.

How wide are your learning ripples?
How wide are your learning ripples?

With all these elements in hand, we get the following picture:

Cycles are concerned with the direct actions around us; circles are stretching us internally while ripples are stretching our surroundings. Therefore it is in the combination of these learning cycles, circles and ripples that learning reaches out to all its dimensions and it is in that combination that learning becomes indeed a vast and deep sea we all dive in.

On the sideline, after looking at these pictures it is difficult to think of learning as a square matter. Of the importance of circles in human societies… that would be an interesting blog post to track or write.

In the meantime, the next week will be all about circles and it sounds promising: I will be attending a meeting of the IKM-Emergent programme where we’ll be discussing progress so far and planning exciting activities for the next phase. More to come on this very soon – perhaps directly from Maastricht where we’ll be holding the workshop. For now, I’ll call this a day and use my (bi)cycle to get back home…

Additional notes

[1] Although I’m not proud of the design of my presentations (I don’t like Powerpoint, even if I recognise its usefulness and the fact that it’s possible to create amazing presentations with it), but still find hereby the main presentation I gave in a quick and dirty way.

[2] Check section 2.2.2 in

Related blog posts:

Overlapping ripples: learning together
Overlapping ripples: learning together

Published by Ewen Le Borgne

Collaboration and change process optimist motivated by ‘Fun, focus and feedback’. Nearly 20 years of experience in group facilitation and collaboration, learning and Knowledge Management, communication, innovation and change in development cooperation. Be the change you want to see, help others be their own version of the same.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: