‘Action Learning is an approach to individual and organizational learning. Working in small groups known as “sets”, people tackle important organizational or social challenges and learn from their attempts to improve things‘
(Pedler and Abbott, 2013:5)
Action Learning is an approach to change and development that is rooted in everyday experience. It supports individual and organisational learning by focusing on action and experiential learning, drawing upon and developing our ability to reflect upon and make choices about what we do in practice.
Collaborative, peer learning
The Action Learning approach is collaborative and brings people together in small groups – also known as ‘sets’ – who meet at regular intervals to help one another learn their way through whatever problematic scenario they are currently facing.
As a set member you are invited to review and reflect upon your own experience as well as that of your peers. Set meetings aim to generate a constructive mix of support and challenge, with the overall objective of opening up new insights and options for further action and further learning.
In leading change and innovation we may need to intervene in complex situations that call for careful consideration of our actions. Action Learning is particularly well suited to multi-layered, knotty challenges for which there are no simple or off-the-shelf solutions.
For example: How do I translate a good idea into a new enterprise? How can I encourage more innovative and effective ways of working in my organisation? How can I find a more fulfilling career? How do I tackle a longstanding problem within my team?
Issues brought to the set might relate to personal, professional, organisational or broader social problems; achieving sustainable change in practice often involves exploring the interconnections between all of these domains.
Who becomes involved in Action Learning?
The Action Learning approach is inherently flexible and can take place in all kinds of settings. It provides a forum for individuals to gather around any kind of change and development agenda, with the sole prerequisite that they are actively attempting to intervene in some aspect of the world and wish to learn from their attempts in doing so.
Action Learning can contribute to internal organisational development, or to the formation of innovation networks that connect learners across different organisations and communities. Becoming a set member requires commitment, mutual respect and a willingness to learn whilst also supporting others in their learning.
Action Learning is about helping others to learn their way forward, not telling other people what to do. It relies on our ability to listen, to ask questions, to reach for understanding and to reflect back what we have heard or are curious to know more about. Working as part of a group in this way hones interpersonal skills that are central to personal, professional and leadership development.
Some fundamental methods and principles will help a group get started, however sets mature over time and evolve their own unique approach in response to what they have learned about learning together.
Some sets prefer to work with a nominated facilitator; some may appoint a facilitator for a limited time while the group finds its feet before becoming self-managed. Action Learning is nothing if not varied, coloured by the diversity of participants’ collective expertise and experience as well as the process of negotiation that shapes the inner workings of the set.
Get in touch if you’d like to find out more about getting started with Action Learning.