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Action Learning

Action learning 

The findings from the Henley Business School research examining corporate learning priorities for 2015, found that important factors for Business Schools delivering executive education to consider are to:

• make the connection between learning and the real world, make the learning applicable
• demonstrate how concepts work in real life 
• have outcome-focused learning

At Newcastle Business School, this is achieved through the integration of action learning into our programmes of study. Action learning, first devised by Reg Revans in the 1970s is a system of management education in which a group of managers learn by discussing each other’s practical problems. Revans advocated that managers form groups (Learning Sets) to work on real work tasks and problems as learning experiences. This approach means tackling real problems using relevant concepts and theory and trying out new ideas and behaviours. By embedding action learning into programmes, managers are required to make the connection between their learning from the programme and their practice as a manager back in the workplace. Typically there will be a 4-6 week gap between the workshop learning and the action learning set meeting, where managers come together to discuss how their experimentation with new ways of working has impacted on themselves and those around them at work. The group allow each member of the set to have ‘air time’ to discuss their experience and through this social learning process of questioning and feedback, managers are encouraged and supported to share their knowledge and experience. Discussing real work issues and experiences with colleagues and peers assists with individual reflection and learning. At the end of the meeting each member of the set, will then state the subsequent action they will take as a result of the discussion. Action – putting change into practice - is a crucial element of the process. Discussing problems is not enough; action must result.

Managers often report that this process offers the most valuable learning on the programme. The process enables them to contextualise their learning, try out new behaviours whilst feeling supported and change and develop as a result.

‘I found the action learning sets really useful…….. it kind of contributed to what I talked about earlier in terms of building relationships sort of across the organisation. But again you were talking about aspects of what you’d been learning in the module and how you might put those into place in sort of practical real-life examples that you were dealing with at that time’

The survey also highlights that peer to peer learning and experiential learning featured heavily in preferred learning methods of high potentials. This further emphasises the importance of using learning processes such as action learning to ensure that development programmes deliver a return on investment to clients.


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