Action Learning

Action Learning involves working on real problems, focusing on learning and actually implementing solutions. It is a form of learning by doing.

Pioneered by Professor Reg Revans and developed worldwide since the late 1940s, it provides a well-tried method of accelerating learning which enables people to handle complex issues more effectively.

Action Learning is based on a radical concept: L = P + Q.  Learning requires Programmed knowledge  (i.e. knowledge in current use) plus Questioning insight. It also uses a small group to provide challenge and support: individuals learn best with and from one another as they each tackle their own problem and go on to actually implement their own solution.

The process integrates: research (into what is obscure); learning (about what is unknown); and action (to resolve a problem) into a single activity and develops an attitude of questioning and reflection to help individuals and organisations change themselves in a rapidly changing world.

The approach has been successfully applied to a wide range of situations in industry, commerce and the service sector as well as in other fields of human endeavour across Western and Eastern Europe, North America, Africa, India, China and Australasia.

Specifically it has been used to: tackle strategic problems at board level; help the unemployed start their own businesses; develop skilled managers for new responsibilities; improve productivity in retailing and manufacturing companies; bring about major changes in large organisations and improve services in health and education.

Some of the benefits of Action Learning

Individuals benefit from:

  • Having the opportunity to reflect
  • Practising the postponement of judgement, providing an opportunity for new connections and answers to arise
  • Receiving support and challenge in relation to specific issues
  • Being held accountable for actions and their impact
  • Setting goals, developing options and taking action that would not have been possible working on their own
  • Learning to listen carefully, ask powerful questions and offer ideas, without telling others what to do
  • Learning about group dynamics and how to contribute effectively within a group.

Some of the above is taken from De Haan, Erik (2005) Learning with Colleagues: An Action Guide for Peer Consultation, Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.

Organisations benefit from:

  • Staff who can listen to, and work with, others
  • People who take responsibility for their actions and the impact of those actions
  • New perspectives on real issues  – often leading to breakthroughs on long-standing issues
  • Enhanced confidence to bring about change
  • Greater self awareness
  • A clearer understanding of how learning occurs
  • Reduced stress

Organisations large and small, including GEC, ICI, Motorola, Texaco, Prudential, Zeneca, Siemens, Lloyds TSB, Littlewoods, the Financial Services Authority, the NHS, water utilities, local authorities and government departments use Action Learning. Business schools, universities and colleges including Henley and Ashridge, the Universities of Lancaster and Manchester and the International Management Centres Association  incorporate Action Learning into their activities.

‘We learn most when faced with a real problem which we are obliged to solve.’ Lord Weinstock, Managing Director, GEC

‘I started this course for the security of a qualification but I found that security in the learning.’ Student on MSc by Action Learning, Manchester Polytechnic