Instructional Design — Action Learning
The roots of action learning can be traced to action research, a concept and term originated by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s (Weisbord, 1987). Reginald W. Revans pioneered the concepts of action learning more than 50 years ago through the use of in-depth research and work in coal mines, hospitals, and other industries. He was invited to try out his theories in Belgium that led to an upturn in the Belgian economy.
Action learning is continuous process of learning and reflection with the intention of getting something done. It does not use project work, job rotation, or any form of a simulation such as case studies or business games. Learning is centered around the need to find a solution to a real problem. Most action learning processes take from four to nine months to complete. Learning is voluntary and learner-driven. In addition, individual development is just as important as finding the solution to the problem (Revans, 1998).
Teams of learners with diverse backgrounds conduct field projects on complex organizational problems requiring use of skills learned in formal training sessions. The learning teams then meet periodically with a skilled instructor to discuss, analyze, and learn from their experiences.
Action Learning can be viewed as a formula: [L = P + Q]:
- Learning (L) occurs through a combination of
- programmed knowledge (P) and
- the ability to ask insightful questions (Q).
Revans based his learning method on a theory called “System Beta,” in that the learning process should closely approximate the “scientific method.” The model is cyclical you proceed through the steps and when you reach the last step, you relate the analysis to the original hypothesis and if need be, start the process again. The six steps are:
- Formulate Hypothesis (an idea or concept)
- Design Experiment (consider ways of testing truth or validity of idea or concept)
- Apply in Practice (put into effect, test of validity or truth)
- Observe Results (collect and process data on outcomes of test)
- Analyze Results (make sense of data)
- Compare Analysis (relate analysis to original hypothesis)
Note that you do not always have to enter this process at step 1, but you do have to complete the process.
Revans suggest that all human learning at the individual level occurs through this process. Note that it covers what Jim Stewart (1991) calls the levels of existence:
All three levels are interconnected what we think influences and is influenced by what we do and feel.
Five basic elements of action learning are the problem, set, client, set advisor, and process.
- The Problem must be salient to the learners (the outcome of the problem solutions must matter to them).
- Participants within the small group (set) may all work on the same problem or different problems.
- The clients may either deal with strategic issues (what to do), or tactical issues (how to do it).
- The set advisor is normally a colleague or leader. The set advisor in turn must be supported by the leaders and the training department.
- It uses a process which brings people together to find solutions to problems and, in doing so, develops both the individuals and the organization.
Revans, R. W. 1998. ABC of action learning. London: Lemos and Crane.
Stewart, J (1991). Managing Change Through Training and Development. London: Kogan Page.
Weisbord, M. (1987). Productive Workplaces. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.