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Paradigms, mental models, mindsets, and behavioral strategies are what Argyris and Schön (1978) call “espoused theories of action,” while observable behaviors are “theories of action in use.” I also believe that paradigms, mental models, mindsets, behavioral strategies, and observable behaviors can be organized as hierarchy of nested theories of action. This nested hierarchy of theories of action is displayed in Figure 1.

Within this nested framework, educators generate mental models that are aligned with the dominant paradigm. This alignment reinforces and sustains the paradigm. As educators conform to the requirements of the paradigm and mental models they develop mindsets (attitudes) about the value and effectiveness of the paradigm and the related mental models. The mindsets influence educators’ choice of behavioral strategies; that is, their attitudes toward the paradigm and mental models help them to devise strategies for how to do their work. As they implement their strategies, observable behavior is manifested. Successful behaviors are rewarded, which, in turn, reinforces the mindsets, mental models, and the paradigm. This interconnectedness and reciprocal reinforcement is unavoidable and powerful.

Clarifying meaning

In the literature and in professional discourse there is often confusion about the meaning of paradigms, mental models, and mindsets. Frequently, the terms are used as interchangeable synonyms. I do not think that they are synonyms. I perceive them as distinct, but interconnected, phenomena. Below, I attempt to clarify the differences that I see among the phenomena.


…accepted examples of actual scientific practice, examples which include law, theory, application, and instrumentation together--[that] provide models from which spring particular coherent traditions of scientific research.... Men whose research is based on shared paradigms are committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice (p. 10).

Capra (1996) defined a paradigm as “…a constellation of concepts, values, perceptions and practices shared by a community, which forms a particular vision of reality that is the basis of the way a community organizes itself” (p. 6). For both of these definitions a paradigm seems to be situated at the level of a profession, discipline, or field of study and serves as a powerful framework for helping practitioners make sense of the reality of their profession.

Barker (1992) provided another definition of paradigm. Although he defined a paradigm as “a set of rules and regulations (either written or unwritten) that does two things: 1) it establishes or defines boundaries and, 2) it tells you how to behave inside the boundaries in order to be successful” (p. 32), he seemingly situated his definition at the level of organizations and individuals. In my opinion, because of where Barker situated the concept of paradigm, his definition of a paradigm actually describes individual and organizational mental models.

In his book The Third Wave , Toffler (1980) described three types of societies based on the concept of “waves.” Each wave pushes the older societies and cultures aside. Each “wave” was actually the dominant, controlling paradigm of its time.

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Source:  OpenStax, Paradigms, mental models, and mindsets: triple barriers to transformational change in school systems. OpenStax CNX. Jun 29, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10723/1.1
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