Action Reflection Learning

Action Reflection Learning

‘The child learns that the stove is hot, not from touching it, but from the pain that comes from the burn afterwards’ If the child does not touch the stove again, we say that he / she has learnt something.


The term ‘Action Learning’ was originally used by Professor Reg Revans to identify his philosophy of management development. Revans’ approach differed from that of conventional management ‘teaching’; it focused on developing managerial skills rather than just increasing knowledge. Revans’ idea was to link the two in a practical way by training managers whilst they worked to solve real problems. In this way the learning and the development of managerial skills, are directly linked to the learners real needs identified through real experience. Action Learning, as developed by Professor Revans’, is based on the concept of: –

L = P+Q

Learning [L] is determined by: the ability / willingness of the individual to question (Q) his / her programmed knowledge (P)

This simple equation raises two questions:

  1. How do we create the conditions necessary to encourage participants to question themselves?
  2. How do we encourage them to do something about the development needs they identify?

The answer, once you know it, is also simple; we use the stimulus of real life problems, either some aspect of the participant’s job or a specific project, to create the learning experience and an Action Learning Set to capture and satisfy the learning needs.

The Set is the heart of the Action Learning process; it is where participants are encouraged by the support of others who are also working to develop themselves, ‘comrades in adversity’ as Reg called them and the challenge provided by a facilitator to reflect and learn from their actions to: Recognise, Decide, gain Permission and take Action(1) to develop the knowledge, skills, experience and the behaviours necessary to achieve their desired goals.

Sets are normally made up of six to eight participants and a professional facilitator who’s task is ‘empower’ participants to develop themselves. At the first set meeting participants share in turn, themselves, their projects and what they plan to do prior to the next meeting. The discussion are open and questioning is encouraged by the facilitator who also records what each participant plans to do before the next meeting. After the meeting this information is circulated to all participants and becomes the agenda for the next meeting and so on, See Case Studies for example programmes.

Whilst Action Learning, in its original form, focused on the development of managers many different models have grown from Reg’s original idea. We at ALA for example have developed a methodology for using Action Learning in organisational development through what we call our In-Plant programmes. These use the Action learning philosophy to create cultural change using cross functional sets to solve specific organisational problems. See our book on In-Plant Action Learning for more information or Case Studies for ab example programme.

  1. Follow this link for a more detailed explanation of the Nature & Process of Change

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