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Triple-loop learning and conversing with reality

Martin Reynolds (Department of Engineering and Innovation, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 3 November 2014




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 (TLL), particularly in the tradition of systems thinking. Learning III and TLL have gained less popularity since they deal with less tangible issues regarding virtues of wisdom and justice, respectively. The purpose of this paper is to provide a learning device – the systems thinking in practice (STiP) heuristic – which helps to retrieve the cybernetic concern for wisdom in association with an often forgotten systems concern for real-world power relations.


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 STiP heuristic for supporting postgraduate systems learning are demonstrated.


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 STiP.

Research limitations/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.


The heuristics – STiP, and the systemic triangulator – provides an innovative cyber-systemic space for learning and action.



Reynolds, M. (2014), "Triple-loop learning and conversing with reality", Kybernetes, Vol. 43 No. 9/10, pp. 1381-1391.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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