Action Learning Sets

Solving Problems by Doing and Discussing

Action Learning Sets - Solving Problems by Doing and Discussing

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Adults learn best when they can talk with one another, reflect and plan.

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. – Benjamin Franklin, American statesman and inventor.

"A problem shared is a problem halved," as the saying goes. Action Learning Sets work on this basis, and build on it by bringing people with experience of a problem together to explore possible solutions, try them out, and develop them further.

A new solution isn't the only outcome, either. Participants learn from their fellow set members' practical experience of trying to solve parts of the problem, and by reflecting on the ideas shared in the group.

In this article, we'll look at how you can use Action Learning Sets to solve problems and help people learn from them.

What Are Action Learning Sets?

Professor Reginald Revans developed Action Learning Sets in the mid-1940s. He wrote extensively about them in his 1983 book, "ABC of Action Learning."

Revans' approach was applied first in the U.K., and then in Belgium. According to later research, Revans' work in Belgium significantly improved the country's productivity. In the 1990s, action learning was reintroduced into the U.K. by consultants working in the banking industry.

The idea behind Action Learning Sets is that adults learn best when they can talk with one-another, reflect, and plan. Revans summed this up in the steps of his Action Learning Cycle (see figure 1, below):

Figure 1 – The Action Learning Cycle

Action Learning Cycle

Reproduced by permission of Taylor and Francis  Books UK. ABC of Action Learning. Reg Revan, Copyright © 2011 and Routledge.

Action Learning Sets put this theory into practice.

When used in a business context, they bring together small groups of people to think about a problem, try out solutions, and discuss and question the results. These people repeat the Action Learning Cycle until they've developed a good solution. ...

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