Action Learning for Individual and Organizational Development
Practice Application Brief 11
by Janet Spence
This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education under Contract No. ED-99-CO-0013. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. ERIC/ACVE publications may be freely reproduced.
In an ever changing world, societal trends such as the empowerment of workers, the emphasis on product quality, and the increasingly technically complex work
What Is Action Learning?
Reg Revans (1997), architect of action learning, believed that it is difficult to describe because it is so simple. McGill and Beaty (1995) defined it as "a
In order to understand what AL is, it is necessary to know what it is not. Perhaps in part because of the similarity of the names, action learning is often confused
Learning is centered around the need to find a solution to a real problem.
Learning is voluntary and learner driven.
Individual development is as important as finding the solution to the problem.
Action learning is a highly visible, social process, which may lead to organizational change.
Action learning takes time. As originally envisioned, an action learning program would take 4-9 months, excluding implementation.
Five basic elements of action learning are the problem, set, client, set advisor, and process.
The Problem(s) must be salient to the AL participants. In other words, the outcome of the problem solutions must matter to them (Dixon 1998). Participants
The Set refers to the four to six action learners who work together to solve the problem(s) ("What Is Action Learning?" 1996). Each set member acts as a
The Client is the person who owns the problem. The client may be synonymous with the set member or may be the sponsoring organization(s) (Inglis 1994).
The Set Advisor acts as the group facilitator. The role of the set advisor is most important at the beginning of the process. Later, the set participants may
The Process involves observation of the problem, reflection and hypothesis forming, and action. Factual information about the problem is gathered on an
Typically, set meetings are made up of a collection of individual time slots of approximately 30 minutes apiece. Each individual discusses the progress they have
What Are the Advantages of Action Learning?
Through AL, set participants are able to solve long-standing problems that could not be solved by simple training, while developing their leadership abilities
What Are the Challenges to Action Learning?
There are three types of challenges to the action learning methodology: (1) concerns about its misinterpretation, (2) concerns about the methodology itself, and
In addition, action learning, in its pure form, is difficult to implement in cultures with largely didactic approaches to education (Pun 1992). Finally, the question
Applications of Action Learning
Action learning has many applications in adult education. It may be used any time learners have a salient, nontechnical problem to solve and the capacity to work
Recommendations for Implementation
Prepare set participants for the action learning process with a start-up workshop to increase their understanding of the nature and purpose of AL and clarify the
Have set participants complete a learning style questionnaire prior to the start-up workshop. Evaluate these questionnaires and discuss the impact of learning
Discuss and reflect on the impact of set politics on the process at the first meeting (Vince and Martin 1993).
Be sure set advisors have appropriate preparatory training (Wallace 1990).
Document personal development and encourage reflection by asking participants to record any new thoughts concerning their problem or the AL process in a
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