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Be able to use action learning for leadership development

Action learning is based upon the concept of learning by reflection (or reviewing) on an experience. In this case, it provides us with an opportunity to implement the skills learned on our leadership programme. In our case, the action learning set was termed a PACE group.

The concept of action learning sets was developed by Reg Revans. It is a process where a group of colleagues learn together by working on real problems and reflecting on their actions taken to address these problems. Individuals learn and develop skills through actual actions and practice rather than through formal teaching, thus the approach to learning is based on acquiring experience. Revans believed that managers, or “comrades in adversity” learn most effectively in a group with, colleagues or managers of a similar level when dealing with genuine work issues. Revans described the ‘cycle of learning’ as a continuous process of action and reflection in Revans formula;- L = P + Q

L is learning
P is programmed knowledge
Q is questioning insight
The Action Learning Cycle follows the process of: Reflecting, Learning, Planning, Action and then back to Reflecting.

Basic Principles 


Typically, the set or group consists of 5-8 people who commit to work together over a period of time (typically over 6 months). The group meets regularly during this time. At each meeting, set members have an opportunity to introduce a challenge or issue that they are facing in their own workplace. The group helps to work on the problem through supportive but challenging questioning in order to develop a deeper understanding of the issue involved, to challenge underlying assumptions and to explore ways forward. A plan of action is formulated and the set member reports back to the group on progress at the next meeting. Ground rules are normally negotiated and established at the beginning of the programme, which are fundamental for the group to operate effectively. These rules generally cover confidentiality, the format of meetings, time keeping, agenda etc. * The members of the group need to make a commitment to set aside time for the group meetings and to undertake the agreed actions. This shows a commitment to making the learning process work. The process of action learning presumes that all set members are equals with the common aim of working for their own development and to achieve progress on their own and joint issues, the willingness to learn from their own and others' activities, the willingness to offer their experience, prior knowledge and ideas to the set as a whole and the ability to act as peer coaches to one another.

* Learning to listen
Listening to understand is one of the key skills required of members of the set, and the group is an opportunity for members to put into practice 3 levels of listening skills learned as part of the development course. * Learning how to make inquiries and frame questions

Action Learning encourages a particular type and use of questions, which help to develop reflection, rather than argument and recommendation. The use of this type of questioning helps clarify understanding of the problem being presented. They may also help to challenge assumptions and perspectives of the person presenting the problem. Individuals need to accept and understand that there is no right or wrong answer. There is also no single answer to solve the issue. Instead, learning is enhanced through group inquiry * No judgment, no advice, no solutions.

One of the key elements of a successful group is a safe, comfortable environment where the members trust one another. In order to establish this, the members of the set must avoid passing judgment. One of the disciplines of the Action Learning set is to learn not to offer advice in response to a problem being presented, nor to judge what is being said, but to frame helpful questions that will enable the presenter to come to...
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