Midwest Social Sciences Journal


This article reviews social scientist and organizational researcher Chris Argyris’s publications from the 1970s through the 2000s about organizational learning. In his role as an action scientist and consultant, working to facilitate learning in organizational contexts and drawing on earlier work in psychology from John Dewey and Kurt Lewin, Argyris developed his “theory of action” perspective on learning and interpersonal inquiry. According to Argyris, learning involves increasing the effectiveness of our actions so as to produce the intended results. He argued, however, that we are often unaware of the extent to which our actions inhibit learning in social contexts. Argyris sought to identify defensive routines that inhibit learning at the individual, group, intergroup, and organizational levels and promoted a shift from single-loop to double-loop learning and from defensive (Model I) to productive (Model II) reasoning. In this article, based on Argyris’s work, I construct a general framework of principles and action heuristics for lifelong learning and inquiry, applicable across organizational, professional, and everyday contexts. After reviewing basic concepts of Argyris’s theory of organizational learning, I identify principles and strategies for individuals seeking to develop in themselves, as well as to promote in others, an orientation of general lifelong learning and inquiry.

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