About Action Learning

Action Learning has emerged as a method of choice for global companies, government agencies, and non profit groups that want to improve quality, cut costs, create new products and services, and change the cultures of their organisations. From Boston to Brazil, from Finland to Tokyo, companies as diverse as Samsung, Dow, GE, Deutsche Bank, Boeing, Sodexho, Novartis, Nokia and many others use Action Learning to solve complex problems, develop leaders, build teams and expand corporate capability.

Since Reg Revans first introduced it to coal miners of Wales and England in the 1940s, Action Learning has become a dynamic process that assists organisations to challenge the status quo, and to develop creative, flexible and successful strategies. Action Learning positions inquiry at the core of organisational behaviour, develops critical thinking and creates mutual respect among employees at all levels.



The focus on inquiry speaks to Peter Senge's concern that organisations should move from institutional training to a learning environment. Action Learning solves dilemmas of all sizes, and is particularly effective with complex problems that may appear unsolvable. It elevates the norms, the collaboration, the creativity and the courage of groups that solve problems of great urgency to the organisation.

Action Learning solves problems and develops leaders simultaneously because its simple rules force participants to think critically and work collaboratively, and because the group's coach, the Action Learning coach, assists group members to reflect, not on their problem solving, but on the elevation of their group functioning and on examples of their leadership skills. Action Learning participants become effective leaders as they solve difficult problems.

History Of Action Learning

Professor Reg Revans first introduced and coined the term "Action Learning" in the coal mines of Wales and England in the 1940s. In Revans interpretation, the purpose of Action Leaning is not just to promote local action and learning, but to bring about organisational change.

Reg Revans described Action Learning with the formula L= P + Q, where Learning (L) occurs through Programmed Knowledge (P) and Insightful Questioning (Q).

Components Of Action Learning

Action Learning is a powerful problem solving tool that has the amazing capacity to simultaneously build successful leaders, teams and organizations. It involves a small group working on real problems, taking action, and learning both as individuals and as teams.


Action has six components. Action Learning is most effective when all six of these components are in operation:


A Problem

(project, challenge, opportunity, issue or task). The problem should be urgent and significant and should be the responsibility of the team to resolve. 


An Action Learning group or team.

Ideally composed of 4-8 people who examine an organizational problem that has no easily identifiable solution. The group should be diverse in background and experience.


A Process of insightful questioning and reflective listening.

Action Learning tackles problems through a process of first asking questions to clarify the exact nature of the problem, reflecting and identifying possible solutions, and only then taking action. Questions build group dialogue and cohesiveness, generate innovative and systems thinking, and enhance learning results. 


An Action taken on the problem.

There is no real meaningful or practical learning until action is taken and reflected on. Action Learning requires that the group be able to take action on the problem it is addressing. If the group makes recommendations only, it loses its energy, creativity and commitment.


An Action Learning Coach.

The Action Learning coach helps the team members reflect on both what they are learning and how they are solving problems. The coach enables group members to reflect on how they listen, how they may have reframed the problem, how they give each other feedback, how they are planning and working, and what assumptions may be shaping their beliefs and actions. The Action Leaning coach also helps the team focus on what they are achieving, what they are finding difficult, what processes they are employing, and the implications of these processes.


A Commitment to learning.

Solving an organizational problem provides immediate, short-term benefits to the company. The greater, longer-term multiplier benefits, however, are the learnings gained by each group member and the group as a whole, as well as how those learnings are applied on a systems-wide basis throughout the organization.

Why Action Learning

Action Learning benefits the organization as a whole and its members individually and in teams. Action Learning can:

  • Assist succession planning by developing a cadre of highly qualified candidates for promotion to executive leadership positions.
  • Deepen participants' confidence in their leadership and team participation skills.
  • Enable participants to establish effective, mutually respectful working relationships with co-workers at all organizational levels.
  • Develop competence among individuals and teams in problem-solving and decision-making processes.
  • Relate action research/action learning theory and methods to organizational challenges.
  • Enhance participants' capacity to reflect on and learn from their individual and collective experiences.
  • Develop in participants an awareness of how their implicit assumptions, beliefs, attitudes, preferences, and organizational interests influence their thinking, decisions and actions.
  • Increase competence in preparing and presenting recommendations concerning urgent organizational issues to executive management.