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The Practice of Own Theory Development

December 1, 2013

Since starting this blog I have written regularly about theories of learning (Learning Cycles – Kolb http://wp.me/p3TKaW-2k, Double-loop Learning  – Argyris http://wp.me/p3TKaW-2D )  but also about the need for the practicing professional to develop theory of their own (Why use Theory? http://wp.me/p3TKaW-3Y ). This we need to do for several reasons. Firstly, it helps internalise theory making it easily retrievable in everyday practice, especially when we are under stress to make sense of a complicated situation or to find solutions to real world business challenges. Secondly,  internalising a particular theory may help us combine this with elements of others to achieve our own new, integrated theory.

My personal approach to internalising new theory is to ensure I really understand the author by reading mindfully, taking concise notes. I then read key works the author referred to in the article or paper, if I can source them. In addition, I look for critical analysis of the theory by others to understand potential weaknesses and to source other views which might be of use. I also test the theories where possible through reflection. I do this by applying the model  to my own past experiences and seeing where it helps explain those events or might have been useful in arriving at a different outcome, had the theory been known to me previously. Finally, I may seek out colleagues and friends with similar interests to discuss the theory and start a dialog to get their input and insights. At some stage in this process the new theory becomes internalised for me and I thereafter find it easier to work with  and to understand how it relates to other theory and perhaps even derive a new, personal integrated theory.

Figure one below provides an example of a personal integrated theory I devised some time ago. It combines Kolb’s Experiental Cycle of Learning [1] with Argyris’s Double-loop Learning [2], providing me with a unified theory that supports my personal learning better that if I try to apply these separately.

Personal Integrated Learning Model 001

Figure 1: My current personal integrated theory of learning

Do such personal theories have to be academically rigorous? I don’t believe so, unless you want to publish a paper in a learned journal!   For me, in my professional or personal life, these own theories must be of real utility in sense-making, problem-finding and in solution-finding.  That is the standard I require them to fulfill. And when they no longer fulfill that standard or I have morphed them into something new as a result of reflection on newer experiences or reading about other theories, I discard them totally or upgrade to my current latest and greatest version!

References

[1] Kolb, D. (1984), “Experiential Learning”, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall.

[2] Argyris, C., (1994), “On Organizational Learning”, Oxford, Blackwell.

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