Action Learning (Revans)

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Summary, forum, best practices, expert tips and information sources.

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 activitiesAction Learning

  1. Experiential learning.
  2. Creative complex problem solving. See also: Case Method
  3. Acquiring of relevant knowledge.
  4. 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

  1. An emphasis on learning by doing.
  2. Conducted in teams.
  3. Addressing company / organizational issues.
  4. With participants placed into problem-solving roles.
  5. Where team decisions are required.
  6. 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 system" (1969).

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 (Q)

Usage of the Action Learning. Applications

  • To address problems and issues that are complex and can not easily be resolved.
  • 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

  1. 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 problems.
  2. 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.
  3. Analyze the issue(s) and identify actions for resolving them.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 group.
  9. Repeat the cycle of action and learning until the problem is resolved or new directions are determined.
  10. 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 its success.
  • 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... -

Special Interest Group

Action Learning Special Interest Group.

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Forum about Action Learning.

Distance: An Action Learning Delusion?
The distance between our actions and the observable, known, impact of those actions can be close (when we have a coachin (...)
2 reactions
Which Comes First - Action or Learning?
Does action always precede learning or does learning precede action? Does this matter? Can both take place simultaneousl (...)
0 reactions
🔥 NEW The Return on Investment of Action Learning
Is there hard evidence for an attributable Return on Investment (ROI) for Action Learning programmes out there somewhere (...)
0 reactions
Best Practices

The top-rated discussion topics about Action Learning. Here you will find the most valuable ideas and practical suggestions.

🥇 Why Action Learning? Purpose
Many "study groups" result in heightened awareness and increased knowledge but often stop there. In my work with action (...)
1 reactions

🥈 Similar Knowledge Level
First of all, to succeed in active learning, the different entities involved should not be far in terms of basic knowled (...)
1 reactions

🥉 New Technologies for Action Learning
Great overview, my interest is how the new technologies "leverage" action learning (and research)? (...)
0 reactions

Action Learning Principles
1. Make sure that your students understand why 2. Respect that they have different styles to learn (auditory-visual-kin (...)
0 reactions

Introduction to 2nd and Consecutive Sessions
I have learned that is very important to start second and consecutive sessions in a learning course with a brief review (...)
0 reactions

Action Learning in Leadership Development
Leadership development programs that most organizations currently use do not deal with all dimensions necessary for beco (...)
9 reactions

Virtual Action Learning
Is anyone doing virtual action learning? If so i'd be very interested to hear from you. I'm researching this emerging fo (...)
6 reactions

What are the Questions in the Action Learning Formula ( L = P + Q)
The Q in the Action Learning formula refers to: A. Four "major" questions: 1. Where? 2. Who? 3. When? 4. What? B. (...)
3 reactions

Puzzles , Problems and New Learning
I wholeheartedly agree about the difference between 'puzzles' and 'problems'. However, for me, there is a problem of con (...)
4 reactions

Action Learning Cycle
If there is an action learning cycle then what is best point to break into the cycle? (...)
4 reactions

Action Learning is Nothing New
Nothing new. All learning start with available knowledge + problem + available solutions + best among them + traditional (...)
1 reactions

Conditions for Action Learning. Circumstances
My experience in a corporate organization is that you need: 1. An active driver (champion) behind the AL process, to en (...)
0 reactions

Action Learning Mantra - Right or Wrong?
Revans said: There is no learning without action and no sober and deliberate action without learning. Is this really tr (...)
0 reactions

A New Name for Action Learning?
What do you think: Is it time for a name change and a relaunch? How about: Learning in Action - sounds more dynamic. O (...)
4 reactions

Does Action Learning Deal with the Knowing - Doing Gap?
Action Learning is surely working in this era of human behavior and learning? Is there far too much knowing in organizat (...)
1 reactions

Key Features of Action Learning
Here's a list of the key features of Action Learning (AL) in a business context. - Small action sets with people who wo (...)
0 reactions

Socrates and Action Learning?
The Socratic Method - which he used more than 2000 years ago – still works and has many similarities to an Action Learni (...)
0 reactions

The Difference in Learning Between Knowing and Doing
When it comes to learning, there is a world of difference between knowing and doing. Many learning programmes leave part (...)
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Action Learning in Fire Departments
I am exploring the possibilities of action learning in the discipline and work practices of fire departments in the Neth (...)
2 reactions

Action Learning Facilitation
Revans (1998) himself was critical of the need for facilitators apart from the earliest stages of the process, believing (...)
0 reactions

New Year Action Learning Resolutions
Now may be a good point to put time in the diary very early in 2014 to actively reflect on 2013 and what has been learne (...)
0 reactions

Experiential Learning Through Virtual Simulation
One of the processes involved in action learning is experiential learning: a learning technique that takes into account (...)
1 reactions

New Radka Action Learning Matrix
Please have a look at my new Action Learning Matrix which can be used to understand the learning dynamics of teams and l (...)
0 reactions

Expert Tips

Advanced insights about Action Learning. Here you will find professional advices by experts.

Capturing Learned Lessons: After Action Reviews

How to Capture Organizational Learning? Best Practices (...)

'Action' Learning is Misleading...

Understanding Action Learning (...)

Action Learning Groups / Programs

Creating an Action Learning Organiztion (...)

6 Action Learning Components

How To Apply It (...)

Execution as Learning

Similar Approach (...)

Core Characteristic of Action Learning

What Makes an AL Group Different? (...)

Alignment is key

Change and innovation (...)
Information Sources

Various sources of information regarding Action Learning. Here you will find powerpoints, videos, news, etc. to use in your own lectures and workshops.

Action Learning in Action

Action Learning, Problem Solving (...)

Action Learning Schools and Varieties, History of Action Learning

Action Learning (...)

Action Learning Guide

Anyone Interested in Learning About Action Learning (...)

Introduction to Action Learning by Reg Revans

Historical Background and Foundation of of Action Learning (...)

Professor Evans Explains Why Fast Change Requires New Ways of Learning and Thinking

Action Learning, Coping with Change, The Need of Change, The Need for New Ways of Learning (...)

Applying Creative Thinking to Complex Business Problem Solving

Creative Thinking, Problem Solving, Complex Problem Solving Techniques (...)

Introduction to Working in Teams, Team Work and Related Concepts

Team Management, Team Work, Groupthink (...)

Organizational Framework

Action Learning (...)

The Knowing - Doing Gap

A New Action Learning Perspective? (...)

Action Learning Toolkit

Action Learning Sets (...)

Action Learning Diagram

Experiential Learning (...)

Action Learning in Leadership Programmes (2)

Action Learning for Leadership Development (...)

Tools and Approaches to Complement Action Learning (3)

Action Learning Tools (...)

Co Consulting Action Learning

Different AL Approach (...)

Evaluation of Action Learning Approaches to a Leadership Programme (1)

Action Learning (...)

Radka Action Learning Matrix

Team Leadership Reflection and Assessment (...)

Compare with Revans' Action Learning: Case Method  |  Team Management Profile  |  Stages of Team Development  |  8D Problem Solving  |  Appreciative Inquiry  |  Positive Deviance  |  Analogical Strategic Reasoning  |  Knowledge Management (Collison & Parcell)  |  SECI model  |  Bridging Epistemologies  |  Organizational Learning  |  Organizational Memory  |  Cause and Effect Diagram  |  Root Cause Analysis  |  Metaplan  |  Groupthink  |  Six Thinking Hats  |  Emotional Intelligence  |  Training Within Industry  |  Pyramid Principle

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