Action Learning, or learning by doing
Every enterprise certainly struggles with problems. For some of them, the idea of a solution is immediately apparent. But what if the problem is urgent, complex, and simply difficult to solve, especially by one person? With help comes a method called Action Learning.
Table of Contents
- Action Learning – what is it?
- Course of Action Learning sessions
- Principles of Action Learning
- Elements of Action Learning
- Questions to use during Action Learning sessions
- Benefits of the Action Learning method
1. Action Learning – what is it?
The Action Learning method is an educational process that was developed in the 1940s by a British professor, Reginald Revans. It involves involving a team in working on a real, complex, and critical problem and acting, during which an intensive learning process for individuals, the team and the organization takes place. It is used to develop effective, creative, and flexible solutions. A characteristic feature of the method is that it allows people with different skills, competencies, and experience to work together to solve a given problem, develop their leadership skills, contributing to improving the effectiveness of the team.
2. Course of Action Learning sessions
The Action Learning method should be equated with meetings in small groups of employees, i.e. from 4 to 8 people together with a coach/moderator. At the beginning of the meeting there is a presentation of the problem, then all participants have space to speak on the topic and discuss it with the rest of the participants, which makes the problem not so much presented, but analyzed from different points of view. The next stage is a questioning session to dispel any doubts and develop a solution to the problem.
3. Principles of Action Learning
Participants in a session using Action Learning should follow the rules, designed to make them take full advantage of the potential of the method and find an effective solution to the problem. The two fundamental rules are:
1. All statements spoken during the session are in response to a question asked in advance. Any participant can ask a question at any time and can address it to a specific person or to all participants. One question can generate one or more answers. This principle is designed to encourage creativity and innovation among participants. Asking questions and active listening promotes the sharing of ideas and insight.
2. The coach supports the learning process of the team, which means that he intervenes in the work only when he sees an opportunity to increase its quality, i.e.:
- does not suggest, judge, direct the team’s work, or give any standards beyond the two basic principles,
- encourages the team, by asking questions, to think together about norms, roles and behaviors that can improve the work.
In addition to the above principles, it is also important that the problems are real, that is, they really happened, not just theoretical. In addition, all participants should take an active part in the team’s meetings and make a commitment to incorporate the solutions developed into their daily work. In addition, the team has complete freedom. It can use all available tools, methods, and resources.
4. Elements of Action Learning
The method consists of six basic elements that should occur to talk about Action Learning. These are:
- Team – the best result is provided by the work of a small team, consisting of people with diverse experience, competencies, and points of view. This allows the use of constructive collaboration, active participation and more room for development.
- Questions – in the Action Learning method, the search for solutions to a problem is carried out by asking questions that clarify the problem, which aim to reflect on the participants and eventually find an effective solution and develop an action plan.
- Action – the meeting should result in a strategy, and the developed actions should be implemented. It is also important to test ideas between meetings.
- Involvement in the learning process – involves developing one’s own competencies, identifying learning opportunities and helping the other participants learn.
- Coaching – is to support the team in the process of learning and adherence to the rules, to allow learning to take place, and to influence the achievement of better results.
- Problem solving – the effectiveness of the Action Learning method is highest when the problem affects the success of the team, is within the team’s scope of influence, and is challenging, i.e. difficult and complex.
5. Questions to use during Action Learning sessions
One of the assumptions of the Action Learning method is that participants are able to ask insightful questions, prompting the targeted people to think and analyze the issue. Questions that will work well in this method are certainly open-ended questions that require an elaborate answer. Moreover, these questions should not be suggestive, i.e. they should not guide the recipient to a specific answer. The design of the questions should help the recipient gain clarity on the issue under analysis, encourage thinking, discovering solutions and, consequently, developing an action plan. It is also worth keeping in mind that the questions posed are intended to move the analysis forward, so participants should not focus on satisfying their own curiosity or overly focus on unimportant details of the problem under discussion. Examples of words with which the questions asked should begin are: Who notices this? What happens then? When do we see that …? Where do we feel/notice? What impact does it have?
The coach, on the other hand, moderates the discussions among the participants, his task is to ask questions to liven up the discussion, to stimulate passive team members.
6. Benefits of the Action Learning method
From the participant’s point of view, the Action Learning method increases awareness and facilitates the identification of challenges in daily work, develops self-confidence and readiness after taking responsibility and taking initiative. In addition, it fosters improved communication effectiveness, develops leadership competencies, systems thinking, creativity. Most importantly, it teaches teamwork, as well as how to analyze and draw conclusions from one’s own experiences.
In turn, at the team level, Action Learning positively influences the effectiveness and efficiency of work, teaches how to build and lead a team, use proven and structured ways of working, improves team competence and increases the commitment of team members.
Moving on to the benefits for the organization as a whole, the use of the Action Learning method contributes to better results, greater productivity, building a culture of commitment and cooperation based on mutual respect, the culture of a learning organization.
As we have repeatedly emphasized, the usefulness of the method is particularly high for urgent and complex problems. In today’s era of continuous development and high volatility of the environment, problems are increasingly complex and complicated, so Action Learning is a method considered one of the most effective methods of problem solving. A properly conducted session can bring many benefits to a single employee, a team, or the entire organization.
If you are interested in the Action Learning method, we invite you to participate in a series of Lean Mentoring meetings organized by our company, based on this very method. During the meetings, participants motivate each other, exchange knowledge and professional experience. The meetings focus on the problems of daily work of the participants and joint search for ways to solve them. Each participant gets the opportunity to present a problem related to his or her work, and the group, together with a coach, helps them find a solution by exchanging ideas and experiences. Apply, participate and see for yourself how effective the Action Learning method is.