Life changing aspects of action learning

Wow. I’m on the train back from three days of intensity in London where I have been training to become an action learning facilitator. It has been eye-opening and amazing! For those of you who may not have encountered action learning before “it is a fantastic personal and professional development experience that improves your performance and helps you build new competencies, it promotes learning and self reflection and it helps you find alternative solutions in challenging and changing times.” Quite frankly, it is life changing!

Personally I have been part of an action learning ‘set’ (aka group) since 2006 and have always beat the drum of how powerful it can be. I can attribute many life changing decision and many successes at work to my action learning experience. In fact, I think that all members of my set would say the same. Historically we were a group of Creative Partnerships Operations Managers and now we are all sorts of things; and not one of us ever made the change without checking in with our set first!  Now that says a lot!

In a nutshell the principals of action learning are based on the thinking of the late Reg Revans, a 1940’s businessman, who believed that people don’t learn from being ‘told’ lecture style but are intelligent action based people who – given the right environment and structure – can more effectively and actively learn from their own experiences and those of their peers.  Simply, the process of action learning is that (with the help of a facilitator!) a group of six to eight individuals agree to form a set and give a commitment to meet so many times – often this could be five or six times in one year.  During the course of the set the individuals take the opportunity to present an issue, a challenge, an opportunity, a dream or something else that they would like to explore with the group.

Then, through the process of open questioning the group helps the individual to generate new perspectives, consider previously unrecognised options, imagine the impact of decisions and generally ‘play’ with their thinking in an incredibly supportive and confidential environment. This in itself is all great, but the cherry on the cake for me is the ‘action’ part. Not just action by considering the possible options available but action by results; in concluding each presentation the set ensures that the ‘presenter’ considers and decides the actions they will complete in response to their reflections and by when too!  When the set meets again there’s always time for catch-ups on the last group of presentations and it’s always great to hear of the progress made.

For me in the last three days, I have deepened my knowledge into the theories behind action learning, had chance to practice being a facilitator, had the opportunity to present this new world of mine and been able to observe how other novices do it too.  My brain is fit to burst… But in a good way!  I’m looking forward to starting my own professional action learning journey and can’t wait to get going. 

Lindsey West is Executive Director of Burnley Youth Theatre and has recently gained the ILM endorsed Professional Development Programme in Action Learning Facilitation. This is an extract from her Reflective Learning log. Lindsey wrote her blog after attending ALA’s facilitator training course.  

One thought on “Life changing aspects of action learning”

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