Action Learning is a process whereby the participant studies their own actions and experience in order to help learn more, solve problems and improve performance.
Action Learning is close to the idea of 'learning-by-doing' or teaching by example. Reginald Revans formulated the process as L=P+Q. This is: Learning = Programming (programmed knowledge or simulations) + Questioning (to create insight for and by others).
Traditional problem solving skills stem from programmed knowledge, that which is already known. However, when faced with more complex issues that have no easy solution it is important to use questioning insight. Through the combination of programmed knowledge and questioning insight (P+Q), participants collectively reflect on problems and are encouraged to think creatively about solutions (L). Here, the varying skills and expertise of participants are adopted as resources and together, solutions are sought.
• Small groups (called 'Action Learning Groups’ or ‘Sets')
• Should be representative of a given society
• Should hold different skills and expertise
• External facilitation
• Hiring a meeting place (if necessary)
Approximate time expense
• Learning sets meet at regular intervals for 1-2 hours, or more.
• Engages with participants instead of keeping them passive
• Can help change old, inflexible teaching methods
• Provides strong stimulus for self-directed learning
• Learn new problem solving methods from others
• Fosters creative thinking and learning
• Regular meetings make organisation difficult
• Can be seen as repetitive
• Requires qualified and experienced facilitators
• Risk of domination by certain individuals
Action Learning has its origins in the work of Reginald Revans (1907-2003). He is usually credited as the person who used and developed Action Learning in Europe. He used the technique in the United Kingdom while working for the Coal Board as Director of Education. He encouraged managers to meet together in small groups, to share their experiences and to ask each other questions; the approach increased productivity by over 30%. From the 1970s to the mid-1990s he travelled widely as a passionate advocate of Action Learning and wrote several books to publicise the idea.
• Revans, Reginald. 1982. Origins and Growth of Action Learning. London: Chartwell-Bratt Publishing and Training.
Image by PflugerPfotos.
Build skills and capacity of participants
Generate new ideas (innovation)
Reach consensus and overcome conflict
Number of participants
Self selected participants attending as individuals (open access process)
Representatives of wider interest groups (stakeholders)
Level of awareness and interest
participants know about some aspects/can roughly articulate some interest
participants are well informed and can articulate their interests
Crime and justice
Culture and arts
Environment and climate change
Health and well-being
Housing and Planning
Science and technology
Limit search to...
... face to face processes
Level of involvement
Children and young people
Ethnic minority groups
Groups with low levels of literacy/confidence
People with learning difficulties