Action Learning

By: Open Future  06-Dec-2011

Capable people resent being told what to do by outsiders.  If you trust your own judgment, you need to drive any learning or change process you become involved in.  How can any of us improve what we do?  Schopenhauer said, "Every man takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the world."  That's obvious on reflection, you can't know what you don't know.  We can all do better, and that is so much easier if we have support or we can work in teams.

Action Learning is a concept developed by Prof. Reginald (Reg) Revans in the UK in the 1960's.  He invited managers to meet and to talk to each other about their work.  Revans found that the managers he worked with were puzzled by the idea that they might be able to help each other.  Action Learning has been developed in many universities, and is being used in the USA with non-profit organisations.  There is much use of Action Learning in education and among health professionals.  I've not seen any evidence of Action Learning in business education, but to me, that's an obvious application.

Reg Revans worked with the managers of coal mines in the UK.  He found that managers were incredibly resourceful and helpful to each other.  In the process of talking to each other the managers improved their knowledge, became open to new ideas and capable of changing the businesses they controlled.

Reg Revans suggested these conditions for success:
*A powerful motivation to do something.
*An active search for solutions that work.
*Willingness to look without prejudice at suggestions for improvement.
*Constant talking, argument and discussion.

In the process of discussion the truth about the problem and the people involved is slowly made clear, and can be accepted.  Doing better is a high order process.

So much of what is critical goes on under our noses and we do not notice it.  At whatever level we work, we become absorbed by the trivialities of our day to day troubles.  One cannot change this situation unless one is also changed in that process.  Change in the system is "action" and change in yourself is "learning".  Hence, "Action Learning".

There is no salvation in advisers or experts no matter how skilled.  The person, each manager, must be the OWNER of his or her own changes.  That requires:
*Becoming well informed.
*Being ready to act in a purposeful way.
*Willingness to remove the roadblocks to improvement.
*Ability to communicate effectively.

Action Learning is not about the preparation of an elaborate plan for future success.  Action Learning is aimed at utility today.  Understand the problem, find a process that will improve things, try it, measure the change.  Understand what that process taught you.  Where can you next apply effort to improve the result?  

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