Open loop and closed loop are two different types of control systems that can be used in various contexts, including automation, engineering, and psychology.

In this article I want to discuss how these systems can be thought about in the context of training effectiveness and capability development.

The Difference Between Open Loop and Closed Loop Actions

In general, the main difference between open loop and closed loop actions lies in the way feedback is used to adjust and regulate a system’s behaviour.

Open Loop System

An open-loop system is a system where the output has no effect on the control action. In other words, it doesn’t use feedback to adjust its behaviour. It operates purely based on the input it receives, without considering the output or the result of its actions.


Think of a toaster. When you set the timer and push down the lever, the toaster heats up the bread for a fixed amount of time regardless of how toasted the bread actually becomes. The toaster doesn’t “know” if the bread is undercooked or burnt; it simply operates for the set duration and then turns off.

Closed Loop System

A closed-loop system on the other hand, utilises feedback from the output to adjust its behaviour. It continuously monitors the output and makes corrections to achieve the desired result. This feedback loop helps the system to maintain stability and accuracy.


Consider a thermostat controlling the temperature in a room. When you set the desired temperature, the thermostat measures the current temperature. If the temperature falls below the set value, it turns on the heater.

Once the temperature reaches the desired level, it turns off the heater. If the temperature rises above the set value, it turns on the air conditioning. The thermostat continuously adjusts the heating or cooling based on the feedback it receives from the room temperature, ensuring that the room stays close to the desired temperature.

In summary, the key difference lies in whether the system takes feedback into account to adjust its behaviour (closed loop) or simply operates based on input without considering the output (open loop).

The Origins of Open and Closed Loop Concepts

The concepts of open loop and closed loop actions were first introduced in the field of engineering and control systems. The origins of these concepts can be traced back to the early 20th century when engineers and scientists were developing methods to control and regulate complex systems such as industrial processes, electrical networks, and mechanical systems.

The terms “open loop” and “closed loop” were likely first coined by engineers working in the field of automatic control.

The earliest known use of these terms dates back to the 1920s and 1930s, when researchers such as Vannevar Bush and Norbert Wiener were developing feedback control systems for aircraft and other mechanical systems.

Since then, the concepts of open loop and closed loop systems have been widely used in a variety of fields, including automation, robotics, psychology, and neuroscience.

Today, these concepts are considered fundamental principles in the design and analysis of control systems, and they continue to be an active area of research and development.

Application in Training and Capability Development

The concepts of open loop and closed loop systems can be applied in various training contexts to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of learning.

In a training context, an open loop system might involve presenting learners with pre-determined information or tasks without providing any feedback or opportunity for adjustment based on the learner’s performance.

This approach can be useful for imparting foundational knowledge or for simple tasks that do not require complex feedback mechanisms. However, for more complex tasks or skills, a closed loop system is typically more effective.

In a closed loop system, learners receive continuous feedback on their performance and can adjust their behaviour accordingly. This feedback can come from an instructor, from peers, or from technology such as sensors or virtual reality simulations.

Here are a few examples of how open loop and closed loop concepts can be applied in training.

Examples in a Training Environment

Classroom Setting

An instructor might use an open loop approach to present lecture material or provide reading assignments.

However, when it comes to assessing student learning, a closed loop approach that involves quizzes, exams, and feedback sessions would be more effective.

Sports Training

Coaches might use open loop drills to teach basic skills such as dribbling or passing a ball.

As athletes progress, closed loop drills that involve feedback from the coach or video analysis can help them refine their technique and improve their performance. The coach might even provide instructions during the execution of a drill so adjustments can be made on the run.

Motorcycle Rider Training

Instructors provide open loop learning to learner riders with verbal instructions and demonstrations of basic skills such as throttle control, braking, and shifting gears. These skills are then practiced in a controlled environment such as a parking lot or on some designated training course.

As riders progress to more complex skills in high speed cornering, instructors might use closed loop learning that involves feedback and adjustment.

For example, an instructor might physically move a rider’s body on a stationary motorcycle in order for them to achieve and feel a better body position.

They might use a video analysis of the rider’s performance to provide feedback on body position, throttle control, line into and through a corner, how and when they apply brakes etc. The rider can then adjust their behaviour based on this feedback and practice the skill again with improved technique.

Workplace Training

A simulation or scenario-based training program might use closed loop feedback to help learners practice decision-making and problem-solving in realistic situations.

Feedback from the simulation can help learners identify areas where they need to improve and adjust their behaviour accordingly.


Overall, the concepts of open loop and closed loop systems can help trainers design more effective training programs that provide learners with the feedback and opportunities for adjustment they need to develop their skills and achieve their goals.

More Information

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