Exploring new horizons with action learning

We ran an action learning facilitator training programme last December (2016) for a group of 6 people. Some of the participants went on the complete the ILM endorsed award in June 2017 and completed a learning log as part of the process.

The learning log is a personal account of a participant’s experience of action learning and how they have used their new skills since completing the initial 3 day action learning facilitator training programme.

What action learning is not

Emma Livingston-Jones has kindly agreed to share some of her learning log, and in particular, one aspect of it which she entitled What action learning is not. It might sound like an odd approach to the subject, however it allows us to look at action learning in a different light, and pinpoint some of its unique attributes in a clear and concise way. It also helps to differentiate action learning from other approaches to learning and development in the workplace.

In her own words, this is what Emma says Action Learning is not:

i) Action Learning certainly needs preparation and its design is important. But unlike most other training its design doesn’t change, and is actually quite simple. It does not have fixed and very specific learning objectives and goals – with the design entirely geared to achieving those – it is much broader than that.

ii) It is very different to many forms of learning and training – especially those which see the facilitator taking a central role and participants being relatively passive. In my experience of many forms of learning with multiple participants, people can choose whether they take an active or passive role, e.g. some people rarely speak, some may spend much of the time looking at their phone. This is not possible in Action Learning. It is fully immersive; all set members have very clear roles and need to be active in participating.

iii) It is not competitive. It is entirely about collaboration. Some forms of training include an element of competition and there can be a hidden or sometimes overt quest for who performs the best. There is no element of competition in Action Learning – everyone is on one team and success lies in all participants being able to work together.

iv) It is not prescriptive. The facilitator does not ‘give’ information – its premise is that people have solutions within them. It is about the set collaborating to create insight and new perspectives. The ‘learning’ happens as the presenter of the work based issue explores their topic and identifies solutions and answers, whilst responding to open questions from the rest of the group.

v) It is not a silver bullet. Some problems and challenges that people face in work and life are big. An Action Learning set isn’t going to change this – but it does have the potential to help people develop strategies and ways of thinking so they feel less ‘stuck’, and able to see issues from a new perspective.

The transformative power of action learning

The learning log is a place where participants can reflect on their action learning experience and develop their thoughts. Emma’s log goes on to explain how, on day 2 of her training programme, she presented on a long standing issue surrounding her career choices. She was able to identify that limitations existed in the organisation she worked for as well as within herself, and in her own self-confidence.

Airing these concerns within a safe and trusting environment allowed Emma to explore these thoughts. She was able to consider the possibility of moving on to a new role, rather than staying focused on the limitations holding her back.

Emma had in fact applied for a new job just prior to the programme and went on to use her new listening and questioning skills during her first and second round interviews. She secured ‘an amazing and exciting new role’ and attributes her confident manner during her interview, and her ability to listen and ask ‘intelligent’ questions directly to her action learning experience.

Emma has also gone on to achieve one of her lifetime ambitions – climbing the highest mountain in Mongolia. You can see the spectacular and breathtaking view from the picture she has kindly allowed us to use to accompany this article. For Emma, action learning was a truly transformative experience, and you could say has led her to explore totally new horizons – quite literally!

Mindsets and action

Action Learning helps to shift mindsets, to enable new ways of thinking that lead to different actions being taken. Responsibility for those actions is owned by the individual, because they have arrived at their approach to a solution themselves. It sounds simple, but it’s also very powerful, and can be applied in a multitude of situations throughout a person’s career. As such it is a skill that can be used time and time again, for the benefit of the individual and the organisation where they work.

If you would like to take part in an action learning facilitator training programme, you can find out more here, including dates of our next courses.

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