Daniel Schugurensky, Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)

Questions and Answers on Adult Education

Edited by Daniel Schugurensky

This site includes questions and answers on Adult Education that were written by students in the course 'Outline of Adult Education' at OISE/UT. The questions are first raised in class by the students themselves. Then they organize in teams in order to research and answer them. New entries are added regularly. This website is intended to provide information about the field to new students and to those who have a general interest in Adult Education. Anyone is welcome to submit a question and/or answer.


What are the theories of organizational change advanced by Schein, Senge and Lewin?

By Bridgid Wilson, John Giustini and Linda Brown (OISE/UT)


Current work environments are pressured to keep pace with a fast changing, highly competitive, and increasingly global world of business. To continue to grow and thrive in this environment, many organizations have accepted the fact that their culture must value and nurture competence and flexibility in all aspects of the business.

Accepting that change is constant and ongoing is a critical part of today’s business reality. Managing change has thus become a key variable in the daily life of most management teams. This has led organizations to believe that a flexible, high performing, involved, contributing and dedicated work force is of more value than a work force that is unengaged and viewed as overhead by management.  

Until fairly recently, management has relied on the philosophy that improved engineering and technology with minimum worker involvement was the key to high productivity.  A classic example of this type of thinking was the early automobile manufacturing plant.  In this hierarchical structure, product moved along a production line and workers were limited to highly routine and repetitive jobs. Management was paid to plan, organize and control, work while workers simply performed the tasks as assigned. The focus was on increased efficiency through improved technology (Sherwood, 15). This approach is known as Taylorism, in reference to Taylor, its main proposer, or as Fordism, because Henry Ford was one of the first to adopt it in his factories

In the early 1980’s, high performance, high commitment work cultures came to the forefront and initiated a paradigm shift in management thinking with the publication of the book “In Search of Excellence”.  This work, written by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, Jr., became a best selling publication in the area of organizational thinking and change and was translated to several languages. Its main premise was that organizations must come to terms with the fact that change is constant and to maximize their position in ever changing and demanding market situations they must recognize, value and maximize the human resource.

In a nutshell, Peters and Waterman’s theory maintains that organizations need to seriously rethink their leadership and management processes to include and value workers of all levels. This theory has been widely accepted in organizational theory, to the point that many organizations today would describe (or at least would like to describe) their working environment as both stimulating and challenging, emphasizing valuing people and ideas from all levels.  Likewise, many business leaders proclaim a commitment to building a culture that evokes high levels of employee commitment and enthusiasm. It is generally accepted that this style of management will have more potential to sustain growth and flourish an organization in a competitive world (Sherwood, 15). The acceptance that change is a constant has also led to a prolific growth of knowledge in adult education around the areas of learning organizations and, as a subset of that, facilitating and managing change.

In addition to Taylor, Peters and Waterman, there are a large number of theoretical models and approaches that address specific aspects of change management. Indeed, there are many aspects of managing change and libraries of books and articles that address each of those aspects. In our attempt to respond to our own question, we have chosen to present the ideas of three key theorists that have influenced significantly the field of organizational change, and the role of adult educators in the workplace. They are Edgar H. Schein, Peter M. Senge and Kurt Lewin.

Edgar Schein and A Model of Attitude Change

Dr. Edgar Schein is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is considered one of the founders of organizational psychology.  He developed a model that explains how attitudes change, and the central component of the learning process in the development of new attitudes and behaviours. His model is based on three stages, and identifies key mechanisms in each one.

Stage One-Unfreezing

    First Key Mechanism: Lack of Confirmation or Disconfirmation

An assumption is made that the behaviors, beliefs, attitudes and values of the change target are organized around, and supported by people’s self-images. A person’s operating self- image may vary, depending on the situation and the image he assigns to others in the situation.  The process of unfreezing is initiated either by one’s inability to confirm or by his/her disconfirmation, of one of three aspects of the total situation. Lack of confirmation happens when relevant information is lacking and disconfirmation occurs when an assumption is made and then proved false. The information which he/she may be exposed to could generate four typical situations:

 1) his/her self-image is out of line with what others and the situation will grant him or be able to sustain;

2) that his/her definition of the situation is out of line with ‘reality’ as defined by others in the situation;

3) that his/her self-image of the others is out of line with their image of themselves or of each other, or

4) one or more of the above in combination

When there is a failure in either confirming aspects of the self or an experience in which disconfirming occurs, unfreezing takes place.  If the learning is as a result of a disconfirming experience, immediate attention is required.

    Second Key Mechanism: Induction of Guilt Anxiety

Induction of Guilt Anxiety is the second key mechanism of Stage One. The induction of guilt anxiety describes another possible reaction to lack of confirmation or disconfirmation.  Rather than disregarding the information or the source of the information, the change target deals with it by finding failure and inadequacy within him/herself.  This may come about as a result of feeling that he/she is unable to live up to some ideal self-image, by feeling that he/she has disappointed others or by feeling he/she has neglected to live up to an imagined obligation.  Collectively these feelings are known as guilt-anxiety. Change occurs as a result of wanting to decrease or avoid guilt-anxiety.

    Third Key Mechanism: Creation of Psychological Safety by Reduction of Threat or Removal of Barriers to Change

If barriers to change are removed and/or threats are reduced unfreezing can occur.  In this case, we must assume that the change target has a desire to change, but that something has prevented the change from occurring.  The change itself may be anxiety producing due to the unknown outcome or due to an outcome he/she cannot bear.

Stage 2-Changing

Cognitive re-definition is the process of learning a new response or changing an attitude.  Social reality directs whether or not other people confirm or disconfirm our attitudes in a given situation.  If we continue in the situation, there is an unfreezing of attitudes as the person determines that something is wrong.   In order to determine what is wrong, assumptions and beliefs about him/herself, the situation and the other people in the situation must be re-examined.  This implies developing alternate assumptions and beliefs, through a process of cognitive re-definition, which results in the development of new personal constructs. Hence, at the beginning of this stage, the change target:

 1) defines terms in a new way;

2) changes the frame of reference from which objects are judged through broadening his/her perceptions or by a process of expanded consciousness; and

3) uses new standards for evaluation and judgment.

 If the change target is presented with more new information which lacks confirmation or is disconfirmed, the cycle repeats.

    First Key Mechanism: Cognitive Redefinition Through Identification

The identification can occur in two different ways; Type 1 or Defensive Identification and Type 2, Positive Identification.  Type 1, defensive identification, usually occurs when the change target experiences feelings of helplessness, relative impotence, fear and threat as a result of involuntary entry into the setting and feeling that he/she cannot escape.  The target has little power in this situation; most of the power is with the change agent.  This change agent often occupies a formal position which is supported by institutionalized sanctions.  The expectation of the target is to change. 

Positive identification occurs when a target enters a situation voluntarily and is free to leave when he/she is ready.  A sense of autonomy, freedom of choice, trust and faith exist.  There is an equalization of power and rarely do formal sanctions exist. 

The basic mechanism of change, in both types of identification, is as a result of the change target, using interpersonal cues, which he/she gets from the person he/she identifies with.  The cues allow the target to redefine the cognitions he/she holds concerning him/herself, others and the situation.  This process of identification with an individual, however, accounts for only a small portion of the total change.

    Second Key Mechanism – Cognitive Redefinition through Scanning

            Through this process, the target focuses, much less emotionally, on several models in his/her social environment to gain information.  This information is gleaned by focusing on the content of the message, irrespective of the person delivering it.  People, the primary source of information are salient, and are only valued by virtue of there perceived relevance or expertness in relation to the problem.  Change as a result of scanning is the method most likely to lead to attitudes that fit well with the rest of the personality.  This is due to the fact that when using the process of scanning, an individual selects only information relevant to his/her own change and growth needs.

Stage 3-Refreezing

    First Key Mechanism (Personal): Integrating New Responses into the Rest of the Personality and Attitude System

            If the new feelings and behavioral responses fit well with the rest of the individual’s personality and attitudes, a new cycle of unfreezing and changing is initiated.  This cyclic process continues until eventually, these new beliefs, perspectives and points of view fit into the rest of the personality and re-freezing is accomplished. 

            This process is similar to that of unfreezing.  The person obtains clues about the impact of his/her attitudes and behaviors on others, from individuals who are significant to him/her.  If the change target finds that his new attitudes and behaviors violate the expectations of others whose reaction he/she values, he/she will either abandon the new learning or relearn old ways.  The risk of this happening is dependent upon the degree of re-freezing which the target experienced.  If the new attitudes and behaviors adopted are a good fit with the target’s attitudes and behaviors, the risk of abandoning the new behaviors is diminished.

    Second Key Mechanism (Relational): Integrating New Responses into Ongoing Significant Relationships

            If the new feelings and behavioral responses are confirmed or reinforced by others with whom the individual has a relationship, a new cycle of unfreezing and change is initiated.  When the individual finds the attitudes, feelings, responses and beliefs are reinforced by these important individuals, they are adopted by the change target. This model of attitude change is part of the bigger learning cycle which Schein uses to describe how we learn. 

Peter M. Senge

The second influential author in this field that we identified in our literature review was Peter Senge. His book “The Fifth Discipline”, published in 1990, had a far reaching impact on organizations struggling with the concept that they needed to adapt to become a learning organization to gain or retain competitive edge. Although the concepts around “learning organizations” had been in main stream management thinking in some form or another for at least two decades, this book was a massive best seller and propelled Senge to the forefront of strategic thinkers during the 1990s. By the end of the decade, in 1999, he was named “Strategist of the Century” by The Journal of Business Strategy.

Key to Senge’s theory are the principles or “disciplines” of systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision and team learning.

Systems Thinking is a “conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools that has been developed…to make the full patterns clearer and to help us see how to change them effectively.” “You can only understand the system…by contemplating the whole, not any individual part of the pattern.” (p. 7). Systems thinking is the discipline that brings all of the other parts, or disciplines, together into an integrated process. Without systems thinking, it is difficult for organizations to understand how each part has relevance and significance to the others. (p. 12)

Personal Mastery is the discipline of personal growth and learning, of “continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively”(p. 7). Senge believes that “organizations learn only through individuals who learn.” (p. 140). Senge points out that few organizations nurture this capacity for learning and thereby allow employees to languish in jobs for which they have no enthusiasm or excitement. (p. 8)

Mental Models are “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.” (p. 8). Senge believes that it is critical for organizations to recognize the power of mental models as a serious, and potentially limiting, factor in the organizations acceptance of new and innovative ideas. Conversely, he suggests there is a potential for mental models that are explored openly and reflectively in a systemic manner to be the foundations of new organizational learning. Reflection and inquiry skills are critical for mental models to be explored and resulting areas of tension and conflict to be opened and addressed. (pp. 187 and 191)

Shared Vision is vital, say Senge, because it provides the focus and energy for learning. It is the vision of a shared future.  When people are excited by the vision they excel, “not because they are told to, but because they want to.” (p. 9) “The organization changes from “their company;” and it becomes “our company”, which “fosters risk and experimentation.” (p. 209).

A shared vision can be fragile, however. There are intrinsic “limiting factors” that infiltrate the vision and can side track it. Managing these issues to ensure the continuity of a shared vision takes skill areas such as: managing and harmonizing diverse ideas, managing current realities so that people do not get overwhelmed and lose track for the future, managing conflicting visions and ensuring that people maintain their sense of connection to one another (p. 229).

Team Learning “starts with “dialogue”, the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into genuine “thinking together.” (p. 10). For Senge, a true dialogue cuts through any unproductive and defensive patterns of communicating and contributes to the synergy of the high performing team by encouraging the group to consider “complex difficult issues from many points of view. Individuals suspend their assumptions…” (p. 234). The result is less wasted effort, cohesiveness, a sense of common purpose, and an over riding interest in the larger team vision rather than individual interests.

In conclusion, Senge’s model requires a new leadership style. The traditional autocratic, top down decision making style of manager cannot support his approach to organizational change. Senge argues that leaders who foster change will be characterized as designers, stewards, and teachers more than managers. Their mission is to foster an environment in which people will “continually expand their capabilities to understand complexity, clarify vision, and improve shared mental models” (see http://www.infed.org/thinkers/senge.htm)

Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis Change Model

Part of a successful and thriving learning organization is maintaining the ability to be open to new ways of doing things.  The leaders of this type of organization must be able to manage organizational change effectively.  Many organizations that try to embark on change are often met with failure.  Often times this process becomes very frustrating leading senior managers to drive the change through the system even harder with only varying degrees of success.  It has always been an interest of ours to search out adult learning methods that would assist organizations in creating change in a positive way.  In our research on managing organizational change we came across the ideas of Kurt Lewin, and particularly a powerful tool developed by hin called Force Field Analysis.

Force Field Analysis

In its simplest form, Force Field Analysis is a method used to get the whole view of all the social forces in favor of or against a plan of action so that a decision can be made which takes into account all interests.” (www.accel-team.com/techniques/force_field_analysis.html pg.1).   Lewin assumes that in any course of action leading to change there are both driving and restraining forces that influence the group’s ability to execute change.

Driving forces are those forces that are pushing the particular change towards its goal.  Conversely, the restraining forces are those factors and influences which are limiting the change from successfully occurring.  What this means then is that the more the driving forces seek to change the status quo, the stronger the restraining forces will work to resist the process of change.  Therefore, Lewin argues that in order to execute change one must increase the driving forces and/or decrease the restraining forces.

Lewin’s Methodology

Lewin’s methodology can be summarized into four steps:

1) state your goal;

2) brainstorm and dialogue about the driving and restraining forces with the individuals who will be directly affected by the goal.

3) determine strength of each of the driving and restraining forces.

4) create an action plan that will allow you to attain your goal by either decreasing the restraining forces or increasing the driving forces or a combination of both.  (www.qaproject.org/forcefield.htm)

Application of Lewin’s Force Field Analysis

This Force Field Analysis methodology can be applied to a situation in my own work environment.  Currently we are implementing an international food safety program called HACCP (Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Points).  Implementation of this program has been met with much resistance.  Application of Lewin’s four-step process seems to be a worthwhile and effective means of addressing these issues of resistance and thus attaining our goal.

Step One: Our goal is to successfully implement the HACCP program.

Step Two and Step Three (combined):     

Driving forces:

- to be recognized internationally as a premier food service supplier (very strong force)

- better internal control of production flow (moderate force)

- specialized training for employees (weaker force)

Restraining forces:

          - different than the old way (moderate force)

- too much time spent on documentation leading to an increase in managerial work load (very strong force)

- lack of understanding about HACCP (strong force)

Step Four: Action plan will revolve around decreasing restraining force

- increase communication with management and employees to provide thorough explanation of techniques and benefits of the HACCP program

- create alternative means and supports for documentation process that will not increase managerial workload

This example clearly shows that “conducting a Force Field analysis can help build consensus by making it easy to discuss people’s objections (to a course of action) and by examining how to address these concerns.” (www.qaproject.org/forcefield.htm pg.1). Based on the research and application of Lewin’s methodology it seems evident that this is in fact a viable and worthwhile tool for affecting change in an organizational setting.


Peters, T. and Waterman, R. W. (1988). In search of excellence: Lessons from Americas best-run companies. Reissue edition. New York: Warner Books.

Sherwood, J. (1998, December). Creating work cultures with competitive advantage. The Journal for Quality Participation. Special Supplement.

Senge, P.M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization.  New York: Currency Doubleday.




Schein, E. H. (unavailable). The mechanisms of change. As found in course material for Managing Organizational Change, (AEC1131H), OISE, Prof. N. Halpern.

Schein, E. H. and Warren, B, G. (1965). Personal and organizational change through group methods.  New York: John Wiley & Sons.






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Last updated on January 10, 2003.