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Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.
Voltaire, 1694 - 1778
French author

Learning to learn series

Action Learning

Action learning is a learning and problem-solving strategy for organizations, whether commercial, government or non-profit.

The focus is to increase employees learning capacity within an organization
while responding to a real world challenge in a cross-departmental team.
Reflection is an important part of the experience. Your small, mutually supportive group

  • Takes advantage of its members’ own actions and experience
    The experience of "exchange" can generate fresh approaches across departmental lines (networking), and help build systemic innovation and learning capacity within the organization.
  • Begins with a period of strategic questioning of the problem
  • Sets action items and goals
  • Regroups to analyze progress
    Reflects upon, and documents, the process

Groups are formed to solve real problems, not to make recommendations.
They are empowered and trusted with the necessary resources to take on the issue,
and as a derivative can present the organization with new procedures
that build the productive power of the organization

  • The context:
    Organizations, whether commercial, government, or non-profit.
    Since action learning is intended first to increase the learning capacity of employees,
    then to resolve a real problem in an organizational context,
    it is not intended as classroom learning experience, or academic exercise.
  • The situation:
    Action learning begins with a clearly defined organizational opportunity or problem.

    Its objective, set by the administration, should be clear and significant.
    The team is fully empowered to bring the challenge to a successful conclusion.
  • The team:
    An ad hoc action team of four to eight people, voluntary or appointed,
    with diverse backgrounds, skills and experience. Team members
    • Are expected to first understand the objective,
      then commit their energy and expertise to the team process
    • Participate as equals, empowered and encouraged to contribute,
      no matter what their rank or role within the organization.
    • Share with, and learn about, fellow team members early in the experience.
      What are our backgrounds, range of expertise and skills?
      How can these contribute to resolving the situation?
      (Diversity ensures that team members will discuss and contribute out of their strengths, and in so doing teach each other on various points)
    • Establish procedures common to group learning and process, i.e.
      Active listening; accessible communication and meeting times; assigned administrative tasks, recognize emerging leadership
  • Insightful questioning and reflective listening.
    The key is to start with fresh questions, not with constructs from the past.1
    Focus first on the right questions rather than the “right answers”;
    clarify the exact nature of the problem, explore what is known and unknown.
    The more challenging the questions, the better the learning experiences and strategies.
    The more potential resources are identified, either relevant/irrelevant, available or needed,
    the more comprehensive the strategy set.
    The questioning phase also builds dialogue within the team, and generates an innovative and cross-disciplinary approach to strategic resolution.
    After this phase of questioning and reflection, action items are identified.
  • Journaling
    Keeping journals and logs facilitates later documentation for the organization,
    as well as personal progress.
    Lessons are recorded throughout the process of active learning, and at its conclusion, to benefit
    • team members in documenting responsibilities and timelines, as well as reviewing actions. for what is going right and what not-so-right, self-awareness
      learning both situational and holistic
    • individuals in reviewing their own experience and growth in the problem-solving process
    • organizations in documenting the processes for future reference, as well as building a program of implementation throughout the organization, whether for organizational review, entrepreneurial activities, …
  • Action items
    Strategies of resolution frame action items; action items promote learning.
    Group members divide tasks, set timelines,
    and individuals or sub-groups return to their respective work environments to implement them.
    Individuals are challenged both to use their range of expertise
    as well as stretch their approaches to implementation.
  • Team mid-course reviews
    At scheduled points in time, the team reconvenes to process individuals’ feedback,
    discuss progress, encounter problems, set next steps.
    If assumptions are proven wrong, a period of re-questioning is implemented, taking care to view the situation fresh; objectives and timelines are re-set if necessary.
    Progress and lessons are journaled for future analysis.
    There is no penalty for reconsidering the process and action items until the problem is resolved, or team refers the issue back to administration for further analysis.
  • Team concluding reviews; institutional review
    With reflection on the concluding process, individuals should gain from self-awareness
    within the process of experiential learning
    Organizations should realize an immediate benefit in resolving the issue, as well as multiplier effects in enhancing employees’ learning/problem solving skills, cross-departmental communications, and alternative processes of engaging with problems.
  • Coaching
    Reg Revan, founder of action learning, believed that team members
    are their best coaches, facilitators or leaders.
    If the team does not have either the experience with reflective or group processes, experiences problematic participants, or needs outside direction, an outside facilitator can be sought to assist the team, much as any resource can be accessed.
    A coach again uses a “questioning” approach to facilitate reflection and focus on the issues. Coaching can also be a task assigned within the group.
Reg Revan introduced action learning in the mid-1940’s as Director of Education for the British National Coal Board, and continued to develop and promote its principles until his death in 2003. It is used by a broad range of organizations, for-profit and non-profit, national and global. The process can be simplified with the formula L = P + Q where L is learning, P is programmed (traditional) knowledge and Q is questioning to create insight.2
2. WIAL: Action Learning Overview. In World Institute for Action Learning. Retrieved July 30, 2008, from http://www.wial.org/actionLearning.shtml.
See also:

Learning to learn | Succeeding in continuing education | Visual/spatial learning |
Learning as a student-athlete | Learning as an adult | Learning with ADHD |
Active learning | Action learning | Language learning strategies
Exploring your personal learning style | Learning folder