June 09, 2012

The many faces of learning cycles

PDCAThe almost identical asymmetry of the steps in different learning cycles caught my attention while reading about knowledge management, this is a quick look at some of them and what I think is the best representation and why.

First of all,

We have to agree that there are some very similar models or step-by-step representations of the learning cycle such as DMAIC, PDCA, and others. Actually if you studied Six Sigma you must have came across the comparison of these two, but it’s not only these, consider the following:

a) OODA loop (observe, orient, decide and act): comes from military origins, and is applied in operations management

b) CRAR cycle (conceptualize, reflect, act and review): created by Van Der Spek as a knowledge cycle

And, of course, there are the DMAIC (define, measure, analyse, improve and control) and PDCA (plan, do, check and act)

These are just a couple of examples; hundreds of models exist in the literature.

Now, why the similarity?

Because -I think- learning is a universal activity that humans experience in the same way, and respond to similarly as well. The stretch is (arguably) in assuming that organizations are similar to humans in this regard. Debating for this point of view is not hard, for once, it not only humans that share the learning cycle but also many animals, besides, there is evidence that these viewing organizational learning by these models actually works. In short, I find it quit intuitive that there are many similarities; the odd thing is having more than one cycle.

So why the different copies?

I think there are many reasons for this (how convenient!) but the most important two are –in my opinion-

1) The fact that different models come from different backgrounds, including different research fields (military/management/psychology) and different scholars/professionals.

2) Some authors/professional consultants form their own interpretation of the cycle for many reasons, either their experience dictates a certain adjustment or they just want to convince companies that they are gurus of their fields, and hence, their models are just shades of the original thing!

So Who is the winner?

I believe that simplicity is bliss, and therefore, find myself leaning towards the good old PDCA, less known as the Deming cycle and originally Shewhart cycle. Which originally was PDSA (plan, do, study and act)


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