July 22nd, 2012 Donald Schon
Donald Schon was a philosopher and progressive thinker whose development into the theory and practice of reflective and professional learning has been applied to a wide range of business fields.
Schon was educated at Yale, the Sorbonne and Harvard University. After a short time teaching philosophy at UCLS and the University of Kansas, he joined the large consulting firm, Arthur D. Little in 1957 where his work sparked his lifelong interest in how technological and other change was absorbed by society.
By 1968 Schon had parted company with Arthur D. Little and accepted the position as visiting professor to Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1971 he delivered the Reith Lectures for the BBC, on how learning occurs within organisations and societies that are in permanent states of flux, which were subsequently published in his classic Beyond the Stable State (1978).
In 1972 he was offered a permanent appointment with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as Ford Professor of Urban Studies and Education, which is where he remained until his death in 1997.
During his years at MIT Schon pioneered the concept of oaction scienceo, an investigative and intimate approach to dealing with problems and errors. His long collaboration with adult education/organizational behaviour expert, Chris Argyris yielded many insights into the question of how organizations develop, adapt, learn or fail. Their collaboration led to two books in the 1970s; Theory in Practice (1974) and Organizational Learning (1978) – the latter of which was completely revised in 1996 and republished as Organizational Learning II.
Donald Alan Schon (1930-1997) was an influential thinker in developing the theory and practice of reflective professional learning in the twentieth century.
He was born in Boston and brought up in Massachusetts, at Brookline and Worcester. After doing a Bachelor's at Yale University, he completed Master's and doctoral studies in philosophy at Harvard University. His thesis dealt with Dewey's theory of inquiry. He also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and pursued advanced study in music (Piano and clarinet).
For many years Schon was with the large consulting firm, Arthur D. Little along with Raymond Hainer with whom he worked on his ideas which resulted in his first seminal work i.e. Displacement of Concepts. In fact this original work was a new interpretation on the history of the ideas of all time — a complement to Thomas Kuhn's work or even a more accurate look at the dynamics of invention. His later works there presaged a lifetime of interest in the subtle processes whereby technological and other change is absorbed (or not) by social systems. In 1970, he delivered the Reith Lectures for the BBC, on how learning occurs within organizations and societies that are in permanent states of flux. These presentations were published subsequently in his classic Beyond the Stable State.
Donald Schon became a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968 and stayed on with an appointment in 1972 as Ford Professor of Urban Studies and Education. He remained there until his death in 1997. During these decades his long collaboration with adult education/organizational behavior expert, Chris Argyris proceeded yielding key insights into the question of how organizations develop, adapt, learn or fail in these critical missions. Their collaboration led to two books in the 1970s – Theory in Practice and Organizational Learning – the latter of which was completely revised and published in 1996 as Organizational Learning II.
Donald Schon introduced several important organizing concepts to a wide range of applied fields:
The idea of a "generative metaphor", figurative descriptions of social situations, usually implicit and even semi-conscious but that shape the way problems are tackled, for example seeing a troubled inner-city neighborhood as urban "blight" and, hence, taking steps rooted in the idea of disease.
"learning systems" – Schon was a pioneer of studies aimed at exploring the possibility of learning at the supra-individual level.
Reflective practice inquiry – Schon's seminal 1983 book, The Reflective Practitioner, challenged practitioners to reconsider the role of technical knowledge versus "artistry" in developing professional excellence. The concept most notably affected study of teacher education, health professions and architectural design.
Frame reflection – the title of a 1994 book co-authored with MIT colleague Martin Rein, prescribed critical shared reconstruction of "frames" of social problems which are otherwise taken for granted and advocated system-level learning to find solutions for "intractable policy controversies."
Much of his later and more influential work related to reflection in practice and the concept of learning systems. He (along with Chris Argyris) maintained that organizations and individuals should be flexible and should incorporate lessons learned throughout their lifespans, known as organizational learning. His interest and involvement in jazz music inspired him to teach the concept of improvisation and 'thinking on one's feet', and that through a feedback loop of experience, learning and practice, we can continually improve our work (whether educational or not) and become a 'reflective practitioner'. Thus, the work of Schon fits with and extends to the realm of many fields of practice, key twentieth century theories of education, like experiential education and the work of many of its most important theorists, namely John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, Carl Rogers and David Kolb.
Donald Schon was married to internationally renowned sculptor Nancy Schon who is particularly well known for her installation in the Boston Public Garden of the bronze duck family from McLoskey's children's classic "Make Way for Ducklings". Nancy Schon completed a sequence of works titled "The Reflective Giraffe" in tribute to her late husband with a giraffe as the central icon.
Major Works by Donald Schon (Chronologically)
Schon, D. A. (1963) The Displacement of Concepts. London: Tavistock
Schon, D. A. (1967) Technology and change: The new Heraclitus. Oxford: Pergamon.
Schon, D. A. (1973) Beyond the Stable State. Harmondsworth: Penguin/ New York: Norton
Argyris, C. and Schon, D. (1974) Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Argyris, C. and Schon, D. A. (1978) Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley
Schon, D. A. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. London: Temple Smith
Schon, D. A. (1987) Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Schon, D. A. (ed.) (1991) The Reflective Turn: Case studies in and on educational practice. New York: Teachers College (Columbia)
Schon, D. A. and Rein, M. (1994) Frame Reflection: Toward the Resolution of Intractable Policy Controversies. New York: Basic
Argyris, C. and Schon, D. (1996) Organizational learning II: Theory, method and practice. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.
Donald Schon made a remarkable contribution to our understanding of the theory and practice of learning. His innovative thinking around notions such as othe learning society, double-loop learningo and reflection-in-action has become part of the language of education. We explore his work and some of the key themes that emerge. What assessment can we make now?
Working from 1957-63 as senior staff member in the industrial research firm Arthur D. Little, Inc., Donald Schon formed the New Product Group in the Research and Development Division. Under the Kennedy administration, he was appointed director of the Institute for Applied Technology in the National Bureau of Standards at the US Department of Commerce (he continued there until 1966). He then co-founded and directed OSTI (Organization for Social and Technological Innovation), a non-profit social research and development firm in the Boston area (he left the directorship in 1973).
His first book, Displacement of Concepts (1963) (republished in 1967 as Invention and the Evolution of Ideas) dealt with othe ways in which categories are used to examine othingso but are not themselves examined as ways of thinkingo (Parlett 1991, quoted in Pakman 2000). Pakman (2000:3) goes on to comment:
The interest in metaphor expressed in that book, would grow years later toward his elaborations on ogenerative metaphor, and its role in allowing us to see things anew. Thus, he was already showing some of what would be epistemological enduring interests for his inquiry, namely: learning and its cognitive tools, and the role of reflection (or lack of it) in learning processes in general, and conceptual and perceptual change in particular.
Donald Schonos next book Technology and Change, The new Heraclitus (1967) developed out of his experience as an organizational consultant and received considerable critical acclaim. He was invited to give the 1970 Reith Lectures in London. His focus, Change and industrial society, became the basis for his path-breaking book: Beyond the Stable State. Schonos central argument was that change was a fundamental feature of modern life and that it is necessary to develop social systems that could learn and adapt. Both books show the influence of the work of his great friend and colleague, Raymond Hainer. (Donald Schon had been able to work through his ideas with Hainer, and to draw upon, for example, his exploration of pragmatism, rationalism and existentialism [Hainer 1968]).
Donald Schon became a visiting professor at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in 1968. In 1972, he was appointed Ford Professor of Urban Studies and Education there. From 1990-92, he served as chair of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He later became Ford Professor Emeritus and senior lecturer in the School of Architecture and Planning. The time at MIT was very productive o and he was later to describe the climate of MITos Division for Study and Research in Education as especially conducive to thinking and research. While he was there he began a very fruitful collaboration with Chris Argyris. This collaboration involved teaching, researching and consulting and resulted in three key publications: Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness (1974), Organizational Learning: A Theory of Action Perspective (1978), and Organizational Learning II: Theory, Method, and Practice (1996). Here we can see Donald Schonos attention moving toward some of the themes that emerged in The Stable State. There is a concern with professional learning, learning processes in organizations, and with developing critical, self-reflecting practice.
It was the last of these areas that then provided the focus for the deeply influential series of books around the processes and development of reflective practitioners (1983; 1987; 1991). He sought to offer an approach to an epistemology of practice based on a close examination of what a (small) number of different practitioners actually do. The heart of this study was, he wrote, oan analysis of the distinctive structure of reflection-in-actiono (1983: ix). He argued that it was osusceptible to a kind of rigor that is both like and unlike the rigor of scholarly work and controlled experimentationo (op. cit.). His work was quickly, and enthusiastically, taken up by a large number of people involved in the professional development of educators, and a number of other professional groupings.
His last major new literary project arose out of a long-term collaboration, dating back to the early 1970s, with Martin Rein (a colleague at MIT). Frame Reflection (Schon and Rein 1994) is concerned with the ways in which intractable policy controversies can be reconciled. During his later years Donald Schon also developed an interest in software design and, in particular, the role of computers in designing, and the uses of design games to expand designing capabilities.
Donald Schon died September 13, 1997 at Brigham and Women's Hospital after a seven-month illness.
Exhibit 1: Donald Schon on learning and the loss of the stable state
The loss of the stable state means that our society and all of its institutions are in continuous processes of transformation. We cannot expect new stable states that will endure for our own lifetimes.
We must learn to understand, guide, influence and manage these transformations. We must make the capacity for undertaking them integral to ourselves and to our institutions.
We must, in other words, become adept at learning. We must become able not only to transform our institutions, in response to changing situations and requirements; we must invent and develop institutions which are olearning systemso, that is to say, systems capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation.
The task which the loss of the stable state makes imperative, for the person, for our institutions, for our society as a whole, is to learn about learning.
What is the nature of the process by which organizations, institutions and societies transform themselves?
What are the characteristics of effective learning systems?
What are the forms and limits of knowledge that can operate within processes of social learning?
What demands are made on a person who engages in this kind of learning? (Schon 1973: 28-9)
Donald Schon argues that social systems must learn to become capable of transforming themselves without intolerable disruption. In this odynamic conservatismo has an important place.
A learning system must be one in which dynamic conservatism operates at such a level and in such a way as to permit change of state without intolerable threat to the essential functions the system fulfils for the self. Our systems need to maintain their identity, and their ability to support the self-identity of those who belong to them, but they must at the same time be capable of transforming themselves. (Schon 1973: 57)
Schon's great innovation at this point was to explore the extent to which companies, social movements and governments were learning systems o and how those systems could be enhanced. He suggests that the movement toward learning systems is, of necessity, oa groping and inductive process for which there is no adequate theoretical basiso (op. cit). The business firm, Donald Schon argues, is a striking example of a learning system. He charts how firms moved from being organized around products toward integration around obusiness systemso (ibid.: 64). In an argument that has found many echoes in the literature of the olearning organizationo some twenty years later, Donald Schon makes the case that many companies no longer have a stable base in the technologies of particular products or the systems build around them. A firm is:
An internal learning system in which the systemos interactionso must now become a matter of directed transformation of the whole system. These directed transformations are in part the justification for the business systems firm. But they oblige it to internalise processes of information flow and sequential innovation which have traditionally been left to the market and to the chain reactions within and across industry lines o reactions in which each firm had only to worry about its own response as one component. The business firm, representing the whole functional system, must now learn to effect the transformation and diffusion of the system as a whole. (Schon 1973: 75)
In many respects, we could not ask for a better rationale for Peter Sengeos later championship of the Fifth Discipline (systemic thinking) in the generation of learning organizations.
Two key themes arise out of Donald Schonos discussion of learning systems: the emergence of functional systems as the units around which institutions define themselves; and the decline of centre-periphery models of institutional activity (ibid.: 168). He contrasts classical models of diffusing innovation with a learning system model.
|Classical models for the diffusion of innovations||Learning systemsï¿½ models around the diffusion of innovation|
|The unit of innovation is a product or technique.||The unit of innovation is a functional system.|
|The pattern of diffusion is centre-periphery.||The pattern of diffusion is systems transformation.|
|Relatively fixed centre and leadership.||Shifting centre, ad hoc leadership.|
|Relatively stable message; pattern of replication of a central message.||Evolving message; family resemblance of messages.|
|Scope limited by resource and energy at the centre and by capacity of ï¿½spokesï¿½.||Scope limited by infrastructure technology.|
|Feedback loop moves from secondary to primary centre and back to all secondary centres.||Feedback loops operate local and universally throughout the systems network.|
In this we can see the significance of networks, flexibility, feedback and organizational transformation. At the same time we have to recognize that the ways of knowing offered by the dominant rational/experimental model are severely limited in situations of social change. Donald Schon looks to a more existentially-oriented approach. He argues for formulating projective models that can be carried forward into further instances (a key aspect of his later work on reflective practice).
Moreover, learning isn't simply something that is individual. Learning can also be social:
A social system learns whenever it acquires new capacity for behaviour, and learning may take the form of undirected interaction between systems government as a learning system carries with it the idea of public learning, a special way of acquiring new capacity for behaviour in which government learns for the society as a whole. In public learning, government undertakes a continuing, directed inquiry into the nature, causes and resolution of our problems.
The need for public learning carries with it the need for a second kind of learning. If government is to learn to solve new public problems, it must also learn to create the systems for doing so and discard the structure and mechanisms grown up around old problems. (Schon 1973: 109)
The opportunity for learning, Donald Schon suggests, is primarily in discovered systems at the periphery, not in the nexus of official policies at the centre (ibid.: 165). He continues, the movement of learning is as much from periphery to periphery, or from periphery to centre, as from centre to periphery. Very much after Carl Rogers, Donald Schon asserts that, Central comes to function as facilitator of society's learning, rather than as society's trainer (ibid.: 166).
Taken together, the themes that emerged in Beyond the Stable State provided a rich and highly suggestive basis for theorizing about both the learning society and the learning organization. Yet for all his talk of networks and the significance of the periphery, Donald Schon's analysis falters when it comes to the wider picture.
While his critical analysis of systems theory substitutes responsive networks for traditional hierarchies, his theory of governance remains locked in top-down paternalism. Only an understanding of the role of democratic politics can provide answers to the purposes and conditions for the learning society he desires. The way societies learn about themselves, and the processes by which they transform themselves, is through politics, and the essence of politics is learning through public deliberation, which is the characteristic of effective learning systems. (Ranson (1998: 9)
Donald Schon's later work with Martin Rein around frame reflection does attend to some matters of public deliberation but the broad line of argument made by Stuart Ranson here would seem to stand. It was the contribution of two of Schon's contemporaries Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire that takes us forward. The formers focus on learning webs, the debilitating impact of professionalization, and the need for an ecological appreciation; and the latters championship of dialogue and concern to combat oppression allow for a more committed and informed engagement with the learning society and learning organization.
Double-loop learning and theories in use
Donald Schon's work on learning systems fed nicely into a very significant collaboration with Chris Argyris around professional effectiveness and organizational learning. Their (1974) starting point was that people have mental maps with regard to how to act in situations. This involves the way they plan, implement and review their actions. Furthermore, they asserted that it is these maps that guide people's actions rather than the theories they explicitly espouse. One way of making sense of this is to say that there is split between theory and action. Chris Argyris and Donald Schon suggested that two theories of action are involved. They are those theories that are implicit in what we do as practitioners and managers, and those on which we call to speak of our actions to others. The former can be described as theories-in-use. The words we use to convey what we, do or what we would like others to think we do, can then be called espoused theory. This was an important distinction and is very helpful when exploring questions around professional and organizational practice.
To fully appreciate theory-in-use we require a model of the processes involved. To this end Argyris and Schon (1974) initially looked to three elements:
Governing variables: those dimensions that people are trying to keep within acceptable limits. Any action is likely to impact upon a number of such variables ï¿½ 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 within the acceptable range.
Consequences: what happens as a result of an action. These can be both intended – those actor believe will result – and unintended. In addition those consequences can be for the self, and/or for others. (Anderson 1997)
For Argyris and Schon (1978: 2) learning involves the detection and correction of error. Where something goes wrong, they suggested, a starting point for many people is to look for another strategy that will address and work within the governing variables. In other words, given or chosen goals, values, plans and rules are operationalized rather than questioned. According to Argyris and Schon (1974), this is single-loop learning. An alternative response is to question to governing variables themselves, to subject them to critical scrutiny. This they describe as double-loop learning. Such learning may then lead to an alteration in the governing variables and, thus, a shift in the way in which strategies and consequences are framed.
When they came to explore the nature of organizational learning Chris Argyris and Donald Schon (1978: 2-3) described the process as follows:
When the error detected and corrected permits the organization to carry on its present policies or achieve its presents objectives, then that error-and-correction process is single-loop learning. Single-loop learning is like a thermostat that learns when it is too hot of too cold and turns the heat on or off. The thermostat can perform this task because it can receive information (the temperature of the room) and take corrective action. Double-loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization's underlying norms, policies and objectives.
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 making techniques more efficient (Usher and Bryant: 1989: 87) Any reflection is directed toward making the strategy more effective. Double-loop learning, in contrast, involves questioning the role of the framing and learning systems which underlie actual goals and strategies (op. cit.).
Finger and Asun (2000) argue that this constitutes a two-fold contribution to pragmatic learning theory. First, their introduction of the notion of theory in action gives greater coherence and structure to the function of abstract conceptualization in Kolb's very influential presentation of experiential learning. Abstract conceptualisation now becomes something one can analyse and work from (Finger and Asun 2000: 45). Second, they give a new twist to pragmatic learning theory:
Unlike Dewey's, Lewin's or Kolb's learning cycle, where one had, so to speak, to make a mistake and reflect upon it is now possible to learn by simply reflecting critically upon the theory-in-action. In other words, it is not longer necessary to go through the entire learning circle in order to develop the theory further. It is sufficient to readjust the theory through double-loop learning (ibid.: 45-6)
To be fair to John Dewey, he did not believe it was necessary to go through a series of set stages in order to learn (although he is often represented as doing so). However, Finger and Asun's main point stands. The notion of double-loop learning adds considerably to our appreciation of experiential learning.
The Reflective Practitioner: reflection-in- and on-action
Donald Schon's third great contribution was to bring reflection into the centre of an understanding of what professionals do. The opening salvo of The Reflective Practitioner (1983) is directed against technical-rationality as the grounding of professional knowledge. Usher et. al. (1997: 143) sum up well the crisis he identifies. Technical-rationality is a positivist epistemology of practice. It is the dominant paradigm which has failed to resolve the dilemma of rigour versus relevance confronting professionals. Donald Schon, they claim, looks to an alternative epistemology of practice in which the knowledge inherent in practice is be understood as artful doing (op. cit.). Here we can make a direct link between Donald Schon and Elliot Eisner's (1985; 1998) interest in practitioners as connoisseurs and critics (see Eisner on evaluation).
The notions of reflection-in-action, and reflection-on-action were central to Donald Schon's efforts in this area. The former is sometimes described as thinking on our feet. It involves looking to our experiences, connecting with our feelings, and attending to our theories in use. It entails building new understandings to inform our actions in the situation that is unfolding.
The practitioner allows himself to experience surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation which he finds uncertain or unique. He reflects on the phenomenon before him, and on the prior understandings which have been implicit in his behaviour. He carries out an experiment which serves to generate both a new understanding of the phenomenon and a change in the situation. (Schon 1983: 68)
We test out our theories or, as John Dewey might have put it, leading ideas and this allows to develop further responses and moves. Significantly, to do this we do not closely follow established ideas and techniques – textbook schemes. We have to think things through, for every case is unique. However, we can draw on what has gone before. In many respects, Donald Schon is using a distinction here that would have been familiar to Aristotle between the technical (productive) and the practical.
We can link this process of thinking on our feet with reflection-on-action. This is done later after the encounter. Workers may write up recordings, talk things through with a supervisor and so on. The act of reflecting-on-action enables us to spend time exploring why we acted as we did, what was happening in a group and so on. In so doing we develop sets of questions and ideas about our activities and practice.
The notion of repertoire is a key aspect of this approach. Practitioners build up a collection of images, ideas, examples and actions that they can draw upon. Donald Schon, like John Dewey (1933: 123), saw this as central to reflective thought.
When a practitioner makes sense of a situation he perceives to be unique, he sees it as something already present in his repertoire. To see this site as that one is not to subsume the first under a familiar category or rule. It is, rather, to see the unfamiliar, unique situation as both similar to and different from the familiar one, without at first being able to say similar or different with respect to what. The familiar situation functions as a precedent, or a metaphor, or… an exemplar for the unfamiliar one. (Schon 1983: 138)
In this way we engage with a situation. We do not have a full understanding of things before we act, but, hopefully, we can avoid major problems while 'testing the water'. When looking at a situation we are influenced by, and use, what has gone before, what might come, our repertoire, and our frame of reference. We are able to draw upon certain routines. As we work we can bring fragments of memories into play and begin to build theories and responses that fit the new situation.
There have been three important areas of criticism with regard to this model (beyond those wanting to hang onto technical rationality). First, the distinction between reflection in and on action has been the subject of some debate (see Eraut 1994 and Usher et al 1997). Indeed Donald Schon may well have failed to clarify what is involved in the reflective process – and there is a problem, according to Eraut, around time – 'when time is extremely short, decisions have to be rapid and the scope for reflection is extremely limited' (1994: 145). There have also been no psychological elaborations of the psychological realities of reflection in action (Russell and Munby 1989). However, when we take reflection in and on action together it does appear that Schon has hit upon something significant. Practitioners are able to describe how they think on their feet, and how they make use of a repertoire of images, metaphors and theories. However, such processes cannot be repeated in full for everything we do. There is a clear relationship between reflection in and on action. People draw upon the processes, experiences and understandings generated through reflection on action. In turn, things can be left and returned to.
We have to take certain things as read. We have to fall back on routines in which previous thought and sentiment has been sedimented. It is here that the full importance of reflection-on-action becomes revealed. As we think and act, questions arise that cannot be answered in the present. The space afforded by recording, supervision and conversation with our peers allows us to approach these. Reflection requires space in the present and the promise of space in the future. (Smith 1994: 150)
Second, there is some question as to the extent to which his conceptualisation of reflective practice entails praxis. While there is a clear emphasis on action being informed, there is less focus on the commitments entailed. Donald Schon creates, arguably, 'a descriptive concept, quite empty of content' (Richardson 1990: 14). While he does look at values and interpretative systems, it is the idea of repertoire that comes to the fore. In other words what he tends to look at is the process of framing and the impact of frame-making on situations:
As [inquirers] frame the problem of the situation, they determine the features to which they will attend, the order they will attempt to impose on the situation, the directions in which they will try to change it. In this process, they identify both the ends to be sought and the means to be employed. (Schon 1983: 165)
The ability to draw upon a repertoire of metaphors and images that allow for different ways of framing a situation is clearly important to creative practice and is a crucial insight. We can easily respond in inappropriate ways in situations through the use of an ill-suited frame. However, what we also must hold in view is some sense of what might make for the good (see Smith 1994: 142-145).
Third, it could be argued that while Donald Schon is engaged here in the generation of formal theory what we do not find in Schon is a reflection by him on his own textual practice in giving some kind of account of that he does of reflection-in-action and the reflective practicum. He does not interrogate his own method. (Usher et. Al 1997: 149). A more sustained exploration of his methodology may well have revealed some significant questions, for example, the extent to which he neglects the situatedness of practitioner experience (ibid.: 168). This is a dimension that we have become rather more aware of following Lave and Wenger's (1991) exploration of situated learning. It may well be that this failure to attend to method and to problematize the production of his models and ideas has also meant that his contribution in this area has been often used in a rather unreflective way by trainers.
The impact of Donald Schon's work on reflective practice has been significant – with many training and education programmes for teachers and informal educators adopting his core notions both in organizing experiences and in the teaching content. Indeed, there is a very real sense in which his work on reflective practice has become canonical frequently appealed to by trainers in a variety of professional fields (Usher et . al. 1997: 143). As such they have suffered from being approached in ways that would have troubled Donald Schon. Rather too often, practitioners are exhorted to apply his theories and exemplars to their own situations and experiences. For him reflective practice was to be enacted. It may be that his theory of reflective practice is far less critical than it appears to be, since it is not directed to its own situated practice of doing theory (Usher et. al. 19977: 147). However, it remains very suggestive and for has some very real echoes in people's accounts of their processes as professionals.
In a similar fashion, his work with Chris Argyris still features very strongly in debates around organizational learning and the possibilities, or otherwise, of learning organizations. And while there is good deal of rhetoric around the notion of the learning society, as Stuart Ranson has convincingly argued, it is Donald Schon's work on learning systems that still provides the most thorough theoretical treatment.
Taken together with his work on design and upon the resolution of intractable policy controversies via frame reflection this is a remarkable catalogue of achievements. Interestingly, though, it is difficult to find a sustained exploration of his contribution as a whole. While there are discussions of different aspects of his thinking (e.g. Newman 1999 analysis of Schon's epistemology of reflective practice), as far as I know, his work has not been approached in its totality. This is a great pity. Going back to books like Beyond the Stable State pays great dividends.