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Action Learning - the basics

Action learning is a transformative teaching methodology where a small group of participants learn and work on real problems, take action and develop as individuals, as a team and as an organisation. It allows organisations to develop creative, flexible and successful strategies for tackling problems.

So how does Action Learning work?

History of Action Learning

Action Learning is a learning philosophy developed in the 1940s by British management consultant and professor Reg Revans (1907-2003). It took shape when Revans had managers at a coal mine meet in small groups to share experiences and ask each other questions about what they had seen and heard. Productivity subsequently increased by 30 per cent. In the decades that followed, he further developed his insights into an acclaimed and applied methodology used by many large organisations.

Samsung, General Electric, Heineken and Boeing use Action Learning to make sense of complex issues and increase organisational learning capacity.

Action Learning process & components

Action Learning is a process of asking clear questions and reflective listening. Action Learning tackles problems by first asking questions to clarify the exact nature of the problem, displaying and identifying possible solutions, and only then taking action. Questions build group dialogue and cohesion, generate innovative and systems thinking, and improve learning outcomes.

  1. A problem
    The problem is urgent and complex. And the responsibility for solving the problem should lie with the team.
  2. An Action Learning group or team
    The ideal Action Learning team consists of 4 to 8 people, preferably with different backgrounds and experiences.
  3. A process of clear questioning and reflective listening
    Action Learning tackles an urgent and complex problem by first asking each other open questions (without judgement). This allows you to clarify the problem, get to the root cause and identify possible solutions. Then you move on to action to actually solve the problem. Asking each other questions creates a group dialogue that looks at the problem from different perspectives. It triggers systems thinking and produces new creative insights and innovative solutions.
  4. An action taken on the problem
    Action Learning requires the group to be able to take action on the problem it is working on. If the group only makes recommendations, it loses its energy, creativity and commitment. If no action follows from the plan, then it is armchair strategy.
  5. The commitment to learn
    Solving an organisational problem provides immediate short-term benefits for the company. The greater longer-term strategic value to the organisation is the knowledge gained by each group member and the group as a whole, as well as the application of this knowledge throughout the organisation.
  6. An Action Learning Coach
    The Action Learning coach helps team members reflect on what they learn and how they solve problems. The coach enables group members to reflect on how they listen. They then reframe the problem and give feedback on how the team plans and works together. The Action Learning coach also helps the team focus on what they find difficult, what processes they use and the implications of these processes on what they achieve. With this information, teams can grow and become more cohesive.



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