Action learning pioneer
Original management thinker Reg Revans (14 May 1907 – 8 January 2003) developed the action learning concept in the 1940s). His extraordinary 96 years encompassed many successful achievements from competing in the Olympics, working as an astrophysicist, educational administrator and university professor to the culmination of his career as an international management consultant.
Revans is probably best known for pioneering a new process for management development which he called “action learning”. Recreating his early experiences of the benefits of a scientific research laboratory where colleagues share and compare problems, ideas and solutions, he transferred these “action learning” techniques to management development programmes for the National Coal Board. Enabling managers to learn from each other’s best practice he put them into groups which he called action learning sets. Here they could gain support and confidence from peers and introduce new ways of working. He was able to demonstrate that action learning was successful by measuring coal pit productivity.
What happens in an action learning set
Revans was convinced that for an organisation to survive its rate of learning must be at least equal to the rate of change in its external environment – this became known as Revans’ Law.
The action learning process has developed over the last sixty years as a method for individual and organisational development. As a process action learning can be challenging and informative. Within organisations Reg Revans described it as “the upward communication of doubt” – an opportunity for individuals to engage in learning and identify action which could make a positive difference to the organisation’s effectiveness. For example, he was one of the first to introduce to the National Health Service the idea that nurses, doctors and administrators needed to listen to and understand each other – and action learning groups offer the opportunity.
Archive video footage of a statement by Reg Revans explaining the philosophy, origins and applications of action learning in this video excerpt of a film by Joanna Kozubska, courtesy of The International Foundation for Action Learning (IFAL).
IFAL is an independent organisation, not associated Action Learning Associates Ltd.
For more information about the background of action learning, how it can be applied to great effect within organisations and to see a short taster of an action learning set, please listen to our webinar.
And for details of action learning courses taking place soon, please refer to our current courses page.
those best able to help in developing the self are those comrades in adversity who also struggle to understand themselves”