Action learning is ‘learning through doing and doing through learning’. It basically means that you don’t stop your day-job to go learn about something, you learn as you go along. A bit like writing a blog!
My impression is that it became fashionable a few decades ago and then somewhat died off, only to re-emerge in different guises, such as ‘coaching’. However, this fits with its remit, doesn’t it? It decreased in popularity as, although participants generally enjoyed doing it, it didn’t seem to impact enough on the bottom-line, and gained a reputation as somewhat ‘soft’ or ‘airy-fairy’. To counter this, more focused versions are now in evidence, especially business-driven action learning, which seeks to ensure that the business objectives of the organisation are kept firmly in mind.
I have set up a few groups, or ‘sets’ as they are traditionally known. This involves getting small groups together (4-8 people) to brainstorm problems. A facilitator helps, and ground rules should be agreed. Freedom is a key prerequisite (I believe), that is, the ability to ‘think the unthinkable’. The other is to stick to the really difficult stuff, the things that keep the CEO awake at night.
To get the ball rolling, I suggest these types of questions:
- What’s the purpose of ….?
- What does/would success look like?
- What is the future of….?
- If we did this really badly, what would we need to do?
This last question utilises reverse or inverse brainstorming. The idea is that we are generally quite good at thinking negatively, so we can use this facility to get an inverse picture of the solution. Doing the opposite should produce success! If nothing else, it gets the creative juices flowing and can be quite fun (another predictor of success).