Sunday, April 16, 2006

"Espoused Theory" vs "Theory-in-Use"

from The LOOPs... @ Branch Meeting April 3, 2006

It's the first time I come across these 2 terms, "Espoused Theory" and "Theory-in-Use", though from the meaning is rather explicit, literally.

The simplest explanation I get for "espouse" is "commit", and of course, "Theory-in-Use" is actually what's in action. And therefore, by putting "Espoused Theory" and "Theory-in-Use" together, I see that it's close to "Are we walking our Talk?".

DD started off by contextualising it to what we do, as an ETO, and what we want to accomplished, being an agent out in the school. Yes, we believe we are the catalyst and we want to build capacities, and we are supposedly to be the information broker (to the schools!!!). These are our beliefs, our wants, our wishes... then look at what's translated into action, look at the reaction & responses from the schools, do they see our beliefs? what we want to happen?

If they do, probably, we are close to reconcilling the two... isn't it? The thinkings and 'want-to-be's have been translated into actions... or have we isolated the two in the course of performing our role?

Back to the personal level, it goes back to our very own self, I believe... we have our dreams, we have things we want to see... but do our actions bring us close what the dreams? Realised that since coming to the ETD, there are lots of good-to-haves, good-to-do, etc... that will bring about good changes to the classrooms... there we started 'preaching' the new approaches, etc... through our workshops, through the baseline lessons we work out, through our interaction with the teachers, etc... we have been selling them, because yes, at least I myself am bought in to the goods it brings... on the other hand, I wonder, is it because now I'm slightly more distant from the exam system, I don't have to be accountable to the results of the 40 students in the class... I'm 'freed-up' from this 'burden'... If I'm back to the school, how will I see the whole thing again? I wonder...

from the website:

Argyris and Schon (1978) distinguish between single-loop and double-loop learning, related to Gregory Bateson's concepts of first and second order learning.

In single-loop learning, individuals, groups or organizations modify their actions according to the difference between expected and obtained outcomes.

In double-loop learning, the entities (individuals, groups or organization) question the values, assumptions and policies that led to the actions in the first place; if they are able to view and modify those, then second-order or double-loop learning has taken place. Double loop learning is the learning about single-loop learning.
chris argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning
A revisit: Theories of Action (13 August 2006)

Read the above article... and I think this time, have a clearer idea what the theory-in-use and espoused theory encompass...

  • The words we use to convey what we, do or what we would like others thinks we do, can then be called espoused theory. Example:
  • In explaining our actions to a colleague, we may call upon some convenient piece of theory. We might explain our sudden rush out of the office to others, or even ourselevs at some level, by saying that a 'crisis' had arisen with one of 'our' clients.
  • The theory-in-use might be quite different. We may have become bored and tired by the paper work or meeting and felt that a quick trip out of an apparently difficult situation would bring welcome relief.

  • Governing variables: dimensions that people are trying to keep within acceptable limits. Any action is likely to impact upon a number of such variables - thus any situation can trigger a trade-off among governing variables.
  • Action strategies: the moves and plans used by people to keep their governing values witin the acceptable range.
  • Consequences: what happens as a result of an action.

A revisit: The Single-loop and double-loop learning

  • Learning involves the detection and correction of errors.
  • When something goes wrong, it is suggested, an initial port of call for many people is to look at another strategy that will address and work within the governing variables.
  • In other words, given or chosen, goals, values, plans and rules are operationalised rather than questioned. 换汤不换药。
  • This is single-loop learning.

  • An alternative response is to question to governing variables themselves, to subject them to scrutiny.
  • This they describe as double loop learning.
  • Such learning may lead to an alteration in the governing variables and thus, a shift in teh way in which strategies and consequences are framed.

  • Single-loop learning seems to be present when goals, values, frameworks and, to a significant extent, strategies are taken for granted.
  • The emphasis is on techniques and makeing techniques more efficient.
  • Any reflection is directed toward making the strategy more effective.

  • Double-loop learning involves questioning the role of the framing and learning systems which underlie actual goals and strategies.
  • Double-loop learning is necessary if practitioners and organisations are to make informed decisions in rapidly changing and often uncertain contexts.


Reflecting... Relating to work... relating to baseline...

  • Dipsticking exercise is a strategy that we used to measure the current status of the pupils' standards pilot in schools.
  • Review carried out at the operational level includes how it is being carried out (Set A/B for different groups of pupils), logistics improvement, design of the tasks, etc... all these remain within the single loop.
  • We have not really question the fundamentals, at this level... as far as those of us who are working on the operational aspect of the dipsticking exercise.

  • Next, we started to question... "Does dipstick work here? By conducting the dipsticking exercise, have we really met our fundamental objectives? Have our objectives changed over time, etc... " Are we doing it for the sake of doing - completing the whole cycle?
  • And now, Sai Choo wants to have data to decide on whether to go ahead or not.
  • Are we revisiting our fundamentals? Now we question, is dipstick THE way...
  • I guess this level of review has moved up to double loop.

Other single loops @ baseline... (hm...)

  • Lesson visits @ pilot schools - started off at the beginning of the year, getting schedule from schools, going down to schools to observe lessons, refinement of feedback forms, etc...

  • Creation of lesson resources - is that the way? Did we review how useful, helpful, 'relevant' in the context of 'integration' by the practitioners in schoos? The way the lessons are designed has been the key focus... have we really met the needs of the implementers at the ground? or we have made assumptions that that's THE way, and when things don't work out well, the problem comes from the way materials are designed??? Have we stepped back to look at other influencing factors?

  • ...

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