Action Learning

by Steve Roche

What is Action Learning?

In Action Learning, a small group of individuals in a company or organisation meet together on a regular basis. They use a well-defined process and a skilled facilitator to find solutions to problems or issues they have with their work.

Action Learning is...

  • A method of problem-solving and learning in groups to bring about change for individuals.
  • An approach to learning by doing, in which a committed group meets regularly to support its members in addressing and resolving their current problems and issues.
  • A form of structured learning which depends for its success on a well-defined process and skilled facilitation. A simple idea that needs commitment and care to put into practice.
  • One of the most important forms of management development to emerge in recent years. It helps build the relationships that help organisations to improve existing operations and also to learn and innovate for the future.

In the group – the Action Learning Set – participants have the space to tackle a range of issues and problems, both organisational and personal. They take away learnings and ideas from each meeting and then discuss their progress and results at the next. The facilitator ensures that the meetings follow a proven and effective structure. 

The action and learning cycle

You can use Action Learning to:

  • Deal with issues you want to resolve
  • Find ways of performing tasks better
  • Raise concerns that have been causing you problems.

Example: ‘A colleague is working in a way that really annoys me and I want to change it.’

This kind of problem probably does not have any one ‘right’ answer. This is where the Action Learning Set comes into its own. It enables participants to come up with ideas for action, to try them out and then to reflect on that action and on what they have learned:

  • About the situation
  • About themselves
  • About the way they think, act and relate to others.

Action Learning is a powerful way to get results quickly; it’s also highly user-friendly and cost-effective.

Who uses it?

It is chiefly used in business as a means of developing managers, leaders and professionals – those individuals who want to develop their skills, self-awareness, careers and relationships.

It also has value for any employee who needs to develop self-understanding and interpersonal skills.

Why does it work?

An Action Learning Set

  • Creates time out from the pressure of work, literally ‘time to think’
  • Supports and challenges people to seek answers, to act and to learn
  • Builds commitment to action, backed up by the support and accountability of a peer group
  • Ensures the learning is fed back into the organisation.

When, where, how?

Members of the group (the Action Learning Set), meet on or off site at regular, scheduled times. Meetings typically run for two or three hours, usually monthly or weekly.

Supported by the facilitator, people can tackle important organisational issues or problems and learn from their attempts to change things. It brings people together to exchange, support and challenge each other in seeking to act and learn.

What is it used for?

You can use Action Learning to:

  • Deal with issues you want to resolve
  • Find ways of performing tasks better
  • Raise concerns that have been causing you problems.

Why Action Learning?

Because it is:

  • a powerful tool for personal and business development
  • highly cost-effective (compared to other options, such as training or individual coaching)
  • a proven way to get results. Click here for some personal testimonials

The busier the person, the more they need time to capture the learning from their experiences.


Action Learning Sets

  1. A group working under considerable stress and pressure were angry about their organisation and unable to find what they needed from training or consultancy. They started a set to help each other find practical ways to improve their working lives and to initiate change from within.
  2. The founders of an internal coaching programme created a set with this brief: to encourage managers to develop and practise their coaching skills by working with real managerial issues.
  3. A group of senior professionals based at different locations and with widely varying roles and responsibilities were tasked with delivery of an organisational change programme. They decided to devote action learning time specifically to sharing their individual learning experiences. They found it valuable for increasing motivation, building team spirit and co-ordinating group tasks.
  4. A set was created for a team of customer care workers who were experiencing difficulties with working relationships and with implementing procedures. They were surprised to find that the peer group developed into a more effective problem-solving forum than any previous managerial interventions or training.