Case Studies – Action Learning in Practice

Action Learning to support newly qualified nurses and midwives

All newly qualified nurses and midwives undertake a year of supported development (preceptorship) and an NHS Trust recognised that they needed more support to develop confidence and competence during this period of transition from student to qualified practitioner.  Action Learning Sets were used to allow preceptees to bring issues from the clinical area and use group reflection to help them identify practical solutions to take back into practice.  This process was revisited each session until the issue was resolved.

An early evaluation of the project following involvement of 106 nurses and midwives showed that Action Learning Sets were hugely beneficial in supporting newly qualified practitioners.  The benefits they perceived include:

  • being supported by others going through the same experiences
  • confidentiality (it was ensured they were in mixed groups from different clinical areas)
  • time off the ward to reflect on issues
  • helped resolve issues at work
  • seeing their own and others development
  • knowing you’re not the only one feeling the way you do
  • increased confidence.

Action Learning to support young people in moving towards sustainable employment

A regeneration agency wanted to explore how Action Learning Sets could be used to facilitate 18 to 24 year olds in discovering, drawing on and sharing personal resources that would lead them towards sustainable employment. An initial discussion explored how to develop both theoretical and practical understanding of Action Learning Set facilitation and informed the design of an approach that would meet the needs of set members.  This was managed within the constraints of a funded programme of support.

Within two weeks a one day training and consultancy event for five people co-designed and delivered at the agency’s offices in London.  The objective for this event was to work out how apply the principles of Action Learning Sets in a way that met the needs of the 18 to 24 year olds being supported by the programme.

To minimise the cost and time involved reading material about the theory and practice of Action Learning Set Facilitation was provided before the event.  To ensure that the needs and views of set members were considered two of those attending were young people who were already participants in similar programmes.  They were invited to experience the ‘training’ part of the events which provided them with three experiences of being members of an Action Learning Set. Their response and views were profound, and they agreed to stay for the follow on meeting and contributed to the development of plans for introducing Action Learning Sets into the programme.

During the event those who were learning to facilitate Action Learning Sets were assessed against the competencies of the International Coach Federation.  Following the event they were provided with written feedback to support their development.

The outcome was a strategy and plan for introducing Action Learning Sets into the programme in a way that was respectful of the needs of potential set members.  This took into account issues that may not have been identified without the involvement of representatives of programme participants, such as optimum attendance times, impact on training allowances, positioning, and how to sell benefits.

In addition, two young people left the event with new ideas about how to progress their careers as a result of being set members.

Action Learning to support a leadership development programme

When Action Learning Sets were introduced to support a middle management to senior management leadership development programme for a national charity there were some real sceptics who were used to working in isolation to get their jobs done.  Five Action Learning Sets were facilitated over a period of 18 months.  Participants were enabled to raise issues around leadership and management and to find their own solutions using the skills and experience in the set.  Non attributable thematic learning was shared with the participant’s organisation, with their permission, and was used to inform organisational development planning.


  • Learned skills to support and challenge in a supportive environment which they took back and used in their workplace
  • Experienced the power of finding a safe place where they could admit that they were vulnerable and could be supported to come up with a solution, and the understanding that many staff would have similar needs  and what would be required for them to be empowered
  • Used sets to understand ways to influence and find solutions to dilemmas rather than have to raise dilemmas
  • Discovered how to work with peers in ways that did not diminish their authority
  • Learned how to facilitate Action Learning Sets and are still doing so a year later.

Learning for aspiring directors

Action Learning Sets were established and facilitated for an NHS Foundation Trust.  The sets were multi-disciplinary and included leaders whose next role would be at Director level.  They were influencing large department areas and key internal and external stakeholders.  Set members had varying experiences of being in an action learning set, some positive, others not.  The sets were facilitated over a period of 18 months to work on day to day issues and challenges and became self-facilitating.  Set members were helped to plan for specific outcomes and to recognise actual outcomes, some of which were unexpected bonuses:

  • Peer support enabled participants to lead more effectively as they learned to recognise and use each other’s unique skills and talents
  • The process facilitated positive responses to difficult organisational decisions, enabling participants to provide appropriate messages and outcomes for the organisation
  • Participants learnt and developed skills to evaluate options for a better future.