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Posted on March 2, 2020
Updated on October 13, 2021

Learning, Teaching and Training

TA has much to offer in terms of better understanding the ways we best learn and of informing the practice of those involved in teaching and training others.

There are a number of key TA concepts which help to further illuminate theories of learning and teaching. Specifically:

  • Life Scripts
  • OKness
  • TA Proper
  • Working Styles
  • Discounting
  • Doors – thinking, feeling and behaviour

Life Scripts

The development of our life script is just about the most profound and all-encompassing piece of learning we engage in in our lives. 

The task of the new born infant is firstly to survive and get his or her needs met. In doing this, the infant starts to make sense of the world around them – the significant people whose attention they need to attract to get fed and be made comfortable. They also will, in this process, be making sense of themselves – though in the first eighteen months of life this will not be a “thinking” process, since the cerebral cortex is not fully developed at birth.

Organisational Learning 

What is organisational learning? Argyris (1999) highlights the different perspectives on this by different theorists:

  • Social-psychological aspects which pay attention to individual interaction within the organisation Schein (1992)
  • Interactions within larger entities within organisations such as between departments, divisions, and top management
  • Policy implementation which has its focus on interests and power

Argyris takes the view that organisations are political entities. As such, organisational learning takes place when individuals think and act on behalf of the organisation. Collective decisions are made, authority is delegated and the collective can say who is and who is not a member.  

According to Argyris (op cit.) the difference between individual learning and organisational learning is that in organisational learning account must be taken of the "interplay between the actions and interactions of individuals and the actions and interactions of higher level organisational entities such as departments, divisions, or groups of managers". It is the collective participation by teams of individuals to develop new patterns of work.

Peter Wickens, in The Ascendant Organisation, talked about the introduction of an integrated quality culture through strategy, planning and process all of which are customer focused. He outlines in detail how the develop an "Ascendant Organisation" considering similar aspects to those highlighted in 6 Sigma perhaps with less emphasis on the specifics of measurement.

Transactional Analysis and Organisational Learning 

Kurpius (1985) discusses the need for strategic planning which encourages risk taking, being proactive and creative. The focal point of this planning needs to be the development of a system which integrates knowledge requirements with problem solving. Where an organisation is people focused then the employees will be motivated to perform better. 

Kurpius (op cit.) outlines the need for interventions on a range of levels including:

  • Small work groups - which he considers are under-utilised.
  • Team building - which he considers to be over-utilised
  • Inter-group development - to increase communication; reduce dysfunctional competition; reduce independence and increase interdependent actions
  • Quality circles at any level in the organisation - raise individual's interest and commitment; cut operational costs; improve overall operations
  • Organisation interventions which are more about a frame of reference that influences values and assumptions about people in the workplace.

Learning in Organisations

Recent research about the brain and the nature of memory has changed the way that the brain is seen, particularly in terms of the balance of genetic inheritance and the influence of the environment. (for accessible accounts, see in particular Siegel (1999) and Lewis, Armini and Lannon (2001) Accounts of this research put forward a number of newly discovered realities about how the brain operates, and in particular, the way in which the brain at the start of life is highly "plastic". In other words, although we all start with a genetically inherited set of qualities, our brain, as we develop, is just as powerfully shaped by the experiences we have, and in particular, the interpersonal experiences we have. There is substantial evidence (quoted in the above references) that there is a "use-it-or-lose-it" quality to different parts of the brain, and that these parts atrophy if not used.

Learning is arguably one of the most central and important skills for us as human beings at every stage of our lives. It is the means by which we meet, make sense of and manipulate our environment.  

More specifically, it contributes hugely to the ways in which we relate to the people with whom we make relationships. Although there are physiological processes and changes also involved, a large part of child development involves learning about self, others and the world.

There are many theories of learning, and Wenger (1998) summarises some of these into groups:

  • Behaviourist theories - e.g. Skinner - learning by stimulus-response, adaptation and reinforcement.
  • Cognitive theories - focusing on the differing ways in which individuals process information - Kolb's learning styles are an example of this approach.
  • Constructivist theories - focusing on the ways in which we construct meaning rather than that this meaning is something fixed and objective.
  • Social Learning theories - focusing on imitation and modelling as the way in which we shape ourselves and are shaped.

How we view learning also depends on whether we focus on the outcome of learning - the product - or on the process by which we achieve that outcome.

In organisations, we have an imperative for the organisation to learn and adapt in order to prosper. However, we also potentially have an ideal environment for people individually within the organisation to learn and grow - assuming that the conditions are conducive to this, and that the individual is open to make new learning depending on his or her previous experiences.

Wenger (1998) argues that the most important factor in our learning is the social one. He is credited with coining the term Communities of Practice. He puts forward a number of premises:

  • we are social beings - far from being trivially true this fact is a central aspect of learning
  • knowledge is becoming competent with respect to valued enterprises - activities which we regard as important, such as singing in tune, growing up as a boy or girl etc
  • knowing is a matter of participating in the pursuit of such enterprises, that is of active engagement in the world
  • meaning - our ability to experience the world and our engagement with it as meaningful - is ultimately what learning is to produce

(1998, page 4)

He, therefore, starts by looking at the components of this social model of learning:

Practice - learning as doing - a way of talking about the shared historical and social resources, frameworks and perspectives that can sustain mutual engagement in action

Community - learning as belonging - a way of talking about the social configurations in which our enterprises are defined as worth pursuing and our participation is recognisable as competence

Identity - learning as becoming - a way of talking about how learning changes who we are and creates personal histories of becoming in the context of our communities

Meaning - learning as experience - "a way of talking about our (changing) ability - individually and collectively - to experience our life and the world as meaningful

(Wenger 1998, page 5)

So what Wenger is arguing is that it is by moving in various "communities of practice" that we learn - and that our learning is primarily through involvement with other people with whom we share a common interest, concern or activity. 

These communities of practice can range from, for example, a group of people who work together, to a family, to participants on a course, to a group of friends sharing a passion for some activity or other.

He argues that we never operate either totally from theory or practice - that there is always a mix of these polarities. Possibly to get away from the pre-conceptions of "theory" and "practice", he uses two alternative terms - which have additional meaning:


"to have or take a part or share with others (in some activity or enterprise"

Our relationship with others is important in this process. We recognise ourselves in each other.


"making into a thing"

This is the way we give form to our experience.

The "object" starts becoming alive when used. An example that Wenger uses here is "the economy" - we talk about it as though it were a real object, rather than a concept. Reification is also the way we project ourselves onto the world.

Wenger argues that we are in a balance between both of these all of the time - we are participating and reifying. In contrast, he give the example of the flower - which is fully participating, but not able to work with concepts (as far as we know!) - and the computer - which is able to deal in abstractions, but not participate in any way.

Organisational Applications

The relevance of this theory for organisations is that it points to the need to recognise that groups of people will develop their own version of "the way to do things" and "the way to understand...", and that this will always be beyond anything laid out in a book or a procedures manual. 

We have tended to see knowledge as something that is "codified" - fixed for all time, rather than something that at the end of the day only has relevance in terms of what we do in conjunction with other people.

Transitions of Knowledge


(from Baumard (1999))

Change through learning - or Recycling?

The concept of double loop learning was developed by Chris Argyris, who studied with Kurt Lewin.

Lewin developed a model of change with three stages:

  1. unfreezing
  2. introducing new values/behaviour
  3. re-freezing

Argyris argues that this makes an assumption that when actions don't lead to the outcomes we expect, this "inconsistency" automatically leads us to learn new ways of acting. 

He goes on to argue that something precedes the unfreezing. If that is not present, people become looped into repetitive unsuccessful attempts to problem solve. 

The only way out of this is to move to the step before this process, and re-examine our "governing variables" - which will include our "theory-in-use" - our values, assumptions and action strategies.


Some writers are now referring to "triple-loop" learning - which is learning about learning. (a meta - meta level).


Argyris C. (1999). On Organisational Learning, Blackwell Business.

Argyris, C. (1999). On Organisational Learning (2nd Edition) Blackwell Business, Oxford

Baumard, P. (1999). Tacit Knowledge in Organizations, Sage

Clary, T.C. and Clary, E.W. (1976). Organizational Analysis with Results Using Transactional Analysis (in TAJ 1976, 18-24).

Dixon, N. (1994). The Organisational Learning Cycle: How We Can Learn Collectively, McGraw Hill

Godin, S. (2000). Unleashing the IdeaVirus (downloadable from

Jaques, E. (1989). Requisite Organisation - the CEO's Guide to Creative Structure and Leadership, Cason Hall and Co

Krausz, R. (1993). Organisational Scripts, TAJ 23:2

Kurpius, D. J. (1985). Consultation Interventions: Success, Failures and Proposals, in van Poelje/Steinert,1996.

Makin, P., Cooper, C. and Cox, C. (1996). Organisations and the Psychological Contract, BPS Books

Miller-Tiedeman (1999). Learning, Practicing and Living the New Careering, Accelerated Development

Morgan, Gareth (1997) Images of Organization: 2nd Edition Sage

Morgan, Gareth (1997) Imaginization: New Mindsets for Seeing, Organising and Managing

Pugh, Derek S. (1997) Organisation Theory: Selected Readings (4th Ed.) Penguin

Schmid B., (1989) The Reality Constructivist Perspective - Systemic Thinking and Professionalism Tomorrow, (in van Poelje / Steinert,199

Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Smith, B. (1990) The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook 

Senge, P. (1990).The Fifth Discipline Century Business

van Poelje, Sari and Steinert, T. (1996). Transactional Analysis in Organisations, ITAA

Wickens P. (1995) The Ascendant Organisation, Macmillan Business