What is Action Learning? Description
Some variations of definitions for Action Learning are:
- A process for bringing together a group of people with varied levels
of skills and experience to analyze an actual work problem and develop an
action plan. The ad-hoc group continues to meet as actions are implemented,
learning from the implementation and making mid-course corrections. Action
Learning is a form of learning by doing.
- An approach to individual and organizational development. Working in
sets or groups, people tackle important organizational issues or problems
and learn from their attempts to change things. Traditional instruction,
or "programmed knowledge", is appropriate when we are faced with "puzzles"
- challenges that have a right answer. However, when we are faced with "problems"
- challenges that have no right answer - we need critical reflection or
"questioning insight". Action learning encourages such reflection by providing
the support to enable people to learn from challenges as well as from themselves
and the process itself. The benefits of learning on all these levels are
that the knowledge is more likely to be transferable to other situations
and participants will be engaged in "double loop learning" where they not
only receive feedback on their actions, but will find their underlying assumptions
and mental models under scrutiny.
- An experience-based approach to developing people that uses work on
meaningful problems as a way to learn. Action learning programs involve
small groups that meet regularly to take action on critical, real problems
while explicitly seeking learning from having taken that action. Usually,
the learning aspect is facilitated by a learning coach who is skilled in
using the collective experience of group members to create learning opportunities.
Action Learning typically comprises the following activities
- Experiential learning.
- Creative complex problem solving. See also: Case Method
- Acquiring of relevant knowledge.
- Co-learning group support.
Each of these activities can be regarded as a necessary component, but
insufficient by itself, to be considered as Action Learning.
characteristics of Action Learning
- An emphasis on learning by doing.
- Conducted in teams.
- Addressing company / organizational issues.
- With participants placed into problem-solving roles.
- Where team decisions are required.
- Formalized into presentations.
Origin of Action Learning. History
Professor Reg Revans first introduced and coined the term "Action Learning"
in the coal mines of Wales and England in the 1940s. In Revans interpretation,
the purpose of Action Learning is not just to promote local action and learning,
but to bring about organizational change. As in "The enterprise as a learning
the Action Learning Formula
Reg Revans described Action Learning with the formula L = P + Q, where
Learning (L) occurs through Programmed knowledge (P) and insightful Questioning
Usage of the Action Learning. Applications
- To address problems and issues that are complex and can not easily be
- To find solutions for underlying root causes of problems.
- To determine a new strategic direction or to maximize new opportunities.
- Generating creative ideas.
Steps in Action Learning. Process
- Clarify the objective of the Action Learning group. Presentation
of the problem or the task to the group. A group may handle one or many
- Group formation. The group can consist of volunteers or appointed
people, and can work on a single organizational problem or each other's
department's problems. Convene a cross-section of people with a complementary
mix of skills and expertise to participate in the Action Learning group.
Compare: Belbin Team Roles.
Action Learning groups may meet for one time or several times. Depending
on the complexity of the problem and the time available for its resolution.
- Analyze the issue(s) and identify actions for resolving them.
- The problem owner presents the problem briefly to the group.
He can remain involved as a member of the group, or withdraw, and await
the group's recommendations.
- Reframe the problem. After a series of questions, the group,
often with the guidance of the Action Learning consultant, will reach a
consensus on the most critical and important problem the group should work
on. The group should establish the crux of the problem, which might differ
from the original presenting problem.
- Determine goals. Once the key problem or issue has been identified,
the group seeks consensus for the goal. The achievement of the goal would
solve the restated problem for the long-term with positive rather than negative
consequences on the individual, team, or organization.
- Develop action strategies. Much of the time and energy of the
group will be spent on identifying, and pilot testing, of possible action
strategies. Like the preceding stages of Action Learning, strategies are
developed via reflective inquiry and dialogue.
- Take action. Between Action Learning sessions, the group as a
whole and individual members collect information, they identify the support
status, and they implement the strategies developed and agreed to by the
- Repeat the cycle of action and learning until the problem is
resolved or new directions are determined.
- Capturing learning. Throughout and at any point during the sessions,
the Action Learning consultant may intervene. He can ask questions to the
group members, which will enable them to:
- Clarify the problem.
- Find ways to improve their performance as a group.
- Identify how their learning can be applied to develop themselves,
the team, and the organization.
After a period of time, reconvene the group to discuss progress, lessons
learned, and next steps. Document the learning process for future reference.
Record lessons learned after each phase of learning.
Strengths of Action Learning. Benefits
- Offers an intelligent and creative way to act and learn at the same
time. This has become essential in a work environment that is rapidly changing
and that faces evermore unpredictable challenges.
- Can help to solve complex, urgent problems.
- Instrumental to develop skilled leaders, or to develop teams.
- Can help to transform corporate culture, and to create learning organizations.
- Produces tangible outcomes as a return on investments in education.
- Adults are most motivated for learning when it is immediately relevant
to their lives. Participants can test the utility of frameworks and techniques
on tangible problems, and are able to see for themselves what can be usefully
applied, and what can not be usefully applied.
Limitations of Action Learning. Disadvantages
- Necessary to organize multiple Action Learning events, to make it effective.
- The design and content of the Action Learning program is crucial to
- The accomplishment of the example task or project can potentially overwhelm
the reflective learning process. Without reflection and feedback, Action
Learning is similar to a normal day on the job.
- In teams where a single individual or a single functional perspective
dominates, the group tends to produce outcomes that are not very innovative
or insightful. (Compare: Groupthink).
- Good and objective facilitators are needed.
- Risk of poor follow-up on project outcomes.
Book: R.W. Revans
- Action Learning: New Techniques for Management -
Book: Michael Marquardt
- Action Learning in Action: Transforming Problems and People... -
Book: Michael Marquardt
- Optimizing the Power of Action Learning: Solving Problems and Building Leaders...
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Action Learning Special Interest Group
Action Learning Education & Events
Compare with Revans' Action Learning: Case Method | Team Management
Stages of Team Development
| 8D Problem Solving
Positive Deviance |
(Collison & Parcell) |
SECI model |
| Organizational Learning
Cause and Effect Diagram
| Root Cause Analysis
| Metaplan |
Six Thinking Hats
| Emotional Intelligence
| Training Within Industry
| Pyramid Principle
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