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Insight into Action Learning

ms133_64I am delighted to welcome back Mike Morrison of Rapidbi as this month’s guest writer. 

In this article Mike share the rules for effective Action Learning – an excellent peer approach to developing skills and knowledge.

Mike is is an established interim manager, coach, business adviser, mentor instructional designer and trainer, on occasions he writes, blogs, twitters and takes the odd day off.  Follow him on twitter here

When devising a management development programme, we need to ensure that participants are not only ‘taught’ or trained, but that they have an opportunity to put learning into action. Experience has shown us that unless we practice new skills and ideas soon after completing a programme we tend to forget the lessons learnt.

Action Learning is one of the methods effective programmes use to help participants apply learning. Other formal approaches will include your Line manager and your mentor.

A definition of Action Learning

“Action Learning is an approach to the development of people in organisations which takes the task as the vehicle for learning. It is based on the premise that there is no learning without action and no sober and deliberate action without learning.

The method has three main components: people who accept responsibility for taking action on a particular issue; problems, or the task that people set themselves; and a set of six or so colleagues who support and challenge each other to make progress on problems. Action Learning implies both self-development and organisation development.” Mike Pedler (1991)

Action Learning works best when a ‘Set’ of individuals are put together as a support group for the duration of the learning activity.

Action learning is a form of experiential learning, where ” Experiential Learning is the process of making meaning from direct experience”

So what is Action Learning?

Action learning is based upon the concept of learning by reflection (or reviewing) on an experience. It is underpinned by the cycle of experiential learning as shown below, where the stages of reviewing and concluding are worked through with the Set.

In practice many of us tend to short circuit this cycle and often ship the reviewing phase as it is often difficult to do out of context.

Action learning will help ‘close the loop’ and ensure our learning is as effective as possible (more about learning cycles in module one). Action Learning Sets are primarily focused on the individual’s learning.

Action Learning Set Who is in it?

An Action Learning Set is a group of 6-8 people who meet regularly to help each other to learn from their experiences. A Set Adviser is appointed to help manage the process. The set is not a team since its focus is on the actions of the individuals within it rather than on a shared set of work objectives.

Experience has shown that sets often work better when participants come with a similar level of experience. The Set Adviser is part of the set in one sense but has a particular responsibility to create a learning environment by encouraging, challenging and focusing on learning. Some Action Learning Sets are self-facilitated.
A ‘Set’ Meeting

The Set will decide on its own way of working but usually a ‘meeting’ involves a series of individual time slots where participants take turns in presenting their project/ challenge/ issue to the set. This will normally involve:

an update of progress on actions from the last meeting
a presentation of current issues/problems
an agreement on actions for the future.

Throughout this, other participants will work with the presenter (by listening and questioning) to help them to decide what actions to take.


Participants on Action Learning Programmes have quoted many benefits which they have gained from action learning:

learning a more ‘disciplined’ way of working
learning to network
learning to relate to, and communicate with, others more effectively
gaining increased self-confidence
gaining increased awareness
gaining increased readiness to take responsibility and initiative.

In summary, the values which underpin action learning are:

membership of a set is voluntary
commitment must be demonstrated in making the process work
a positive, constructive approach to life
reflection as the key to learning
the presenter is focused (on her/his own issue)

For more information on Action Learning and setting up your own group contact Mike Morrison at Rapidbi.com

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