Action Learning is a method for learning in a small group meeting periodically to tackle problems and asking questions to each other, trying to find a solution. It was originally developed by UK physicistReg Revans in the 40s, who defined the formulaL (learning) = P (Programmed content) + Q (questioning). In other words, learning requires programmed knowledge (i.e. knowledge in current use) and questioning insight.
Author Bob Dick (1997) describes it as follows: “As Reg Revans used and described it, itwas mostly used across different organisations. That is, the participants typically came from different situations, where each of them was involved in different activities and faced individual problems. Most commonly the participants have been managers, though this is not essential.” In these days the use of action learning is more common within one organization. The participants of a ‘set’ (the small group, with 5-6 members) may either come with their individual challenges and get inquiring support from their peers, or jointly address a problem. Revans recommended that the sets work on their own, as a self-managed group. Currently many action learning sets have an external coach, who supports the learning process, asking questions, doing some facilitation tasks such as setting norms or conducting debriefs. Different practitioners have evolved different roles for the action learning facilitator/coach. Action Learning has been increasingly applied in the last 20 years. Because of its pragmatic result-orientation it has become a much-sought approach for corporate development programs, being used for leadership development and emerging talent development. In educational settings, it has been incorporated into several MBA programs, where students work on projects related to their subjects. Furthermore, action learning is being used in non-for-profit settings such as community projects, health institutions, and in government. Over time practitioners have developed different characteristics in their action-learning designs: ranging from a focus on the results of the project and letting learning emerge in a tacit way, up to the other end of the spectrum, with main focus on learning and keepingthe project as the arena for learning, with results taking asecondary role. Action learning is used these days in North and South America, Asia-Pacific, Australia and Middle-East, Africa and Europe.
Some examples of where Action Learning has been used