Triple-Loop Learning and the Peer Learning Group Model

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Triple-loop experience learning, also called transformational learning, is used to develop innovative and effective approaches to dealing with long-standing or complex issues. It is through triple-loop learning that individuals (or organizations) can determine how they need to be different to create transformational change. That is what The Peer Learning Institute and its Peer Learning Group Model are structured to achieve.

Let’s put this into context.

In single-loop learning, people, groups or organizations follow the rules. This is appropriate for the routine, repetitive issues that help us do daily tasks. We change our action or behavior to fix or avoid mistakes. The biggest problem with single-loop learning is that we remove the symptoms, but the root causes still remain. The reaction is automatic and limited, so little or no learning occurs and little or no insight is needed.

Most organizations operate according to single-loop learning – members establish rigid strategies, policies and procedures and then spend their time detecting and correcting deviations from the “rules.”

Dr. Ray Jimenez identified the questions asked at each juncture during a brief video:

In single-loop learning, the questions we ask are: “What do I know?” “What should I know?” “Am I doing things right?”

In double-loop learning, people, groups or organizations learn about learning and change the rules. This is necessary because it is most relevant for complex issues. We correct or change the underlying causes behind the problematic action.  Learners learn new ways of thinking that will impact on their behavior and reflect on that learning.

In double-loop learning, the questions we ask are: “Am I doing the right things?” ”How do I test it?” and  “How do I know it works?”

In triple-loop learning, people or groups learn how to learn. Not only do we think about applying the rules or changing them, we also think about the rules themselves. Learners learn new beliefs that impact on their thinking and, therefore, on what they do and how they do it.

In triple-loop learning, the questions we ask are: “How do I decide what is right?” and “How can I apply it in another related situation?”

This description of triple-loop learning does an excellent job of explaining what happens in the Peer Learning Group Model.

The Peer Learning Group Model is designed to help managers learn how to transform their behavior so they are more effective when handling difficult challenges. It consists of two 90-minute sessions separated by a month of practice.

Session 1 begins by asking for the peer learning group members’ current knowledge about a management challenge. [What do I know?]

It uses materials provided by The Peer Learning Institute to help the members identify the root causes of their current management challenge as well as discover new strategies to address the challenge. [What should I know?]

Session 1 concludes by having each peer learning group member select a new strategy to practice [How do I test it?]

During the practice period between Sessions 1 and 2, the members test their new strategy so that they can answer the question “How do I know it works?”

In Session 2, the members are asked to reflect on what they learned during their practice experience. They determine tips and tricks to make the new strategy work well and then make a commitment to use the new strategy to handle similar challenges in the future [How can I apply it in another related situation?]

Both triple-loop learning and the Peer Learning Group Model are concerned with transformational changes in behavior to increase individual and organizational effectiveness.

For more information about the Peer Learning Group Model, please visit

Deborah Laurel                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Peer Learning Institute


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