Workplace Learning: More on Argyris and Schon

Last time, we considered Argyris’s and Schön’s thinking on mental maps as constructed via Reflection-in-Action and Reflection-on-Action: in a nutshell, that reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action are both iterative processes, rather than discrete actions, in the context of workplace learning.

Reflection-in-action, reflection-on-action

Reflection-in-action, reflection-on-action

It could be argued that components of Argyris’s and Schön’s position do not conform to the Constructivist tradition, and it is possible to discern a Positivist aspect to their thesis, particularly in the exposition of their notion of theory-in-use, which in my view exhibits characteristics of behaviorist patterns – for example, elements of B.F. Skinner’s ideas on operant conditioning in the strategies employed in single-loop learning.

Similarly, it has been argued elsewhere (Easterby-Smith & Araujo, 1999) that Argyris’s and Schön’s work on Model I and Model II organizations relies too heavily on assumptions

of what “good learning” (p.13) consists of, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this series on workplace learning. Nonetheless, as Finger and Asún point out in Adult Education at the Crossroads. Learning our way out:

Unlike …Kolb’s learning cycle, where one had, so to speak, to make a mistake and reflect upon it – that is, learn by trial and error – it is now possible thanks to Argyris and Schön’s conceptualization, to learn by simply reflecting critically upon the theory-in-action. In other words, it is no longer necessary to go through the entire learning circle in order to develop the theory further. It is sufficient to readjust the theory through double-loop learning.





Argyris, C. and Schön, D. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Asún, M. and Finger, M. (2000) Adult Education at the Crossroads. Learning our way out. London: Zed Books.

Easterby-Smith, M. & Araujo, L. (1999) Current debates and opportunities. IN: Easterby-Smith, M. Araujo, L. & Burgoyne, J. (eds.) Organizational Learning and the Learning Organization: Developments in Theory and Practice, London: Sage


  1. That is an interesting quote by Asun and Finger. I don’t think Kolb’s theory required someone to make a mistake. Rather, he talked about apprehensive and comprehensive knowledge in the context of learning. The cycle begins with a learning experience, which might include a mistake or it is just an “experience” that brings to light the knowledge needed to participate in that experience. This awareness of knowledge is apprehensive learning which means that we may have the knowledge somewhere in our schema, but we haven’t had to access it or use it ever. After the experience, it is necessary to reflect on the experience, but more importantly, to try to generalize your understanding. This process of moving the type of knowledge from apprehensive (passive) knowledge or understanding to comprehensive (active) knowledge is what happens in the learning model.

    As a result, without going through the model, there still may be learning, but not a deep level of learning if you skip the reflection or the generalization. Is it possible that the reflection in action is the same as apprehensive knowledge while the reflection on action is comprehensive?

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