Action learning is a proven tool for realizing individual and organizational change. It combines knowledge that people have been taught with skills people have learned, after from experience. Action learning requires a supportive environment in which to thrive. Once established, it provides a valuable and powerful stimulus for continuous change, enabling organizations to grow and learn dynamically, rather than remaining static or fixed in one set of circumstances or perspectives.
However, it’s also a management development and training tool differed from the conventional approach in tat it focused on developing managerial skills rather than just increasing knowledge. It has been observed that major factors affecting a manager’s job performance were his or her skills- ability to do the job and attitudes- the will to do what is necessary to optimize effectiveness. This approach was designed to help managers as they worked to solve real problems. The learning and therefore the development of managerial skills are directly linked to the learner’s real needs based on actual experience.
Action learning is based on the concept: L = P+Q. Learning [L] comprises programmed knowledge [P] – things that people have been taught or that they have learned through experiences plus Questioning skills [Q]- the ability and willingness to challenge programmed knowledge using the stimulus of real life problems. Hence, people need the programmed knowledge that they have acquired over the years but, in the conditions of rapid change that we live in today, this is not enough for survival. People and especially managers, must also constructively question both themselves and those around them so that they can adapt successfully to the constantly changing world.
The basic idea of action learning is simple. Individuals are put in a supportive environment with a problem to solve and a facilitator who will encourage them to question their programmed knowledge and to test themselves and each other. The process of questioning and testing produces experience. Reflection on experience leads to learning. For instance, a child learns that the stove is hot, not by touching it- test, but through the pain that comes from the burn afterward- reflection. Learning is demonstrated if he or she does not touch the hot stove again.
Towards understanding action learning, there are key approaches and roles people develop by…
* Working on life problems,
* Being empowered to question what is happening,
* Trying out suggested solutions in doing things effectively,
* Stepping back and reflecting on what is happening and why,
* Sharing the experience with others who are also learning by doing.
There are two main models of action learning; which focuses on individual development, and the in-plant or organizational development model, which combines individual development with organizational change. Both methods use the same structure.
* The Problem- This provides the focus for the activity. It’s both the individual and a team problem- project.
* The Client- Is the person who owns the problem. This is someone who knows, cares, and above all can in-plant its solution if they wish to.
* The Action Learning Set- This is the place where participants meet to share their experience. It is the core of the program; the question and confrontation, challenging, and support which take place in the set provide encouragement and stimulus for individuals and groups to carry on.
* The Facilitator- Encourages learning through questioning, mirroring, challenging, and supporting. The facilitator is the gift in the oyster which creates the learning pearl.
* The Sponsor- Is the senior manager responsible for the program.
To harness action learning for individual development, there are several ways in which it can be used to develop individuals, including;
* The Own Job Model- This aims to enable individuals to maximize their personal effectiveness. Individuals take a problem into the action learning set and they meet at regular intervals over an agreed period of time with an external facilitator. The learning focus is on helping participants to develop the expertise they need to solve their own problems.
* The [P] Development [Academic] Model- This approach aims to maximize the learning opportunities presented while acquiring knowledge – programmed knowledge. The model combines the personal effectiveness development aspects of the own job model with the opportunity to acquire new learning. Sets are formed of people who have the same learning goals and have a dual focus, new knowledge coupled with personal learning.
* The In-Plant Action Learning Approach- While individual action learning programs are very powerful in bringing about individual change, they cannot change organizational culture. One approach to change this problem has been to apply the action learning method on an in-plant basis, using problems that exist within the company- real problems which it must solve. The approach uses the typical action learning structure, in which directors and senior managers are cast as clients, middle managers as facilitator, foreman and supervisors as fellows- action learning teams. The whole process is coordinated by external facilitator. Hence all managers and supervisors are involved in a change program at the same time. The main difference is in the application. The in-plant approach applies action learning to the total management structure of a company in a way which involves everybody.
Therefore, action learning relies on the team-working and facilitation processes which encourage questioning, empower participants to try something different, and lead to change. The heart of the action learning process is the group, supported by the facilitator. It provides a safe haven from which individuals can emerge to test themselves and return to share their experience, thereby encouraging and supporting change. Any team-working or problem-solving activity can be turned into an action learning program, through the simple addition of a facilitation process. Any personal development programs can be greatly strengthened by forming action learning sets and providing facilitation. Why not do it and maximize the value of your investment?