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N-loop learning: part I – of hedgehog, fox, dodo bird and sphinx

Bernard L. Simonin (Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA)

The Learning Organization

ISSN: 0969-6474

Article publication date: 10 April 2017




This paper aims to encourage greater clarity and stimulate further interest in thorough empirical research in the area of learning levels. The broader motivation here is to urge researchers to not only theorize but also undertake elaborate and much needed empirical work.


Part I of the study rests on a reflection and review of the literature concerned with “N-loop learning”, that is, the different hierarchical levels and stages of organizational learning.


The study provides some views and classification schemes on how to reconcile and think about different levels of learning. Some learning archetypes are identified that guide further reflection and elaboration on learning stages and hierarchies.


“N-loop learning” is introduced to encapsulate and systematize a vast array of views, models and levels of organizational learning. From zero learning and single-loop learning to quadruple-loop learning, a series of learning archetypes are presented. The case for a proper and clear nomenclature of learning levels is singled out. Finally, a strong case for empirical testing in this area is advocated.



Simonin, B.L. (2017), "N-loop learning: part I – of hedgehog, fox, dodo bird and sphinx", The Learning Organization, Vol. 24 No. 3, pp. 169-179.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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