Action Learning

Action Learning is an approach to learning at work, where the importance of ‘doing’ in the learning process is stressed. It has a proven track record in relation to adult learning (McEniff et al 2003)  and can be defined as: “… a continuous process of learning and reflection, supported by colleagues, with an intervention of getting things done. Through action learning individuals learn with and from each other by working on real problems and reflecting on their own experiences” (McGill 1995).

Action Learning is the approach that links the world of learning with the world of action through a reflective process within small cooperative learning groups known as ‘action learning sets’ (McGill 1995). The ‘sets’ meet regularly to work on individual members’ real-life issues with the aim of learning with and from each other. The ‘father’ of Action Learning, Reg Revans, has said that there can be no learning without action and no (sober and deliberate) action without learning (Revans 2011). Revans argued that learning can be shown by the following equation

L = P + Q

Where L is learning, P is programmed knowledge (for example, traditional instruction) and Q is questioning insight. Revans, along with many others who have used, researched and taught about this approach, argue that Action Learning is ideal for finding solutions to problems that do not have a ‘right’ answer because the necessary questioning insight can be facilitated by people learning with and from each other in action learning ‘sets’. The Action Learning approach helps to redress the balance between the ‘program’ of the course of study and the ‘questions’ raised by students in the course of their own learning. The difficulties that one experiences in taking actions to resolve the problems that is faced, and on reflection, turn out to have their origins within ourselves. Through the action and group reflection, action learning provides a means of recognizing how one blocks and limits ourselves in what we try to do and it provides support for making changes. In this way action learning can be a powerful form of personal development.


McEniff, J., Lomax, P., and Whitehead, J. (2003) You and Your Action Research Project, London: Routledge Falmer.

McGill, I., and Beaty, L., (1995), Action Learning: a Guide for Professional, Management and Educational Development. 2 ed., London: Kogan Page.

Revans, R. (2011), ABC of Action Learning,  2 ed., London: Routledge.


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