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Is Action Learning Stuck?
(This article appeared in the January 2000 issue of the International Federation of Action Learning's newsletter Action Learning News.)
Attention to the action learning process has increased dramatically over the past ten years. The amount of applications and literature has increased accordingly, yet their focus has remained largely the same. We seem stuck in how we think about and use action learning. Perhaps it is time we reflect on the status of action learning, take actions to further evolve the process and reflect on what we learn.
Limited Focus of Applications and Literature
Books do a wonderful job of describing basic elements, core learning theories and how to implement programs. Articles analyze dynamics of action learning with reference to the learning equation, adult learning theories, systems theory, etc.
Descriptions of applications, whether in books or articles, are almost always in the context of management development in large organizations. Each description briefly addresses the nature of the client organization, design and composition of sets, types of projects and structure of meetings. Primary emphasis is on various outcomes from the application.
To Evolve Action Learning ...
1. Develop More Guidelines for Designing Programs and Groups
2. Reach Low-Income and Rural Areas
3. Provide Framework for Support Groups
4. Cultivate Communities for Change
5. Offer Local Learning Clusters
6. Research On-Line Sets
7. Integrate with Other Programs
8. Ally With Coaching and Peer-Helping Practices
Peer-helping services are highly efficient means to low-cost sharing of services and materials. Perhaps the best example is peer-counseling and peer-mediating programs in schools. Action learning certainly is certainly another powerful example. Yet the process is rarely mentioned in peer-helping organizations. Action learners would benefit from association with other peer organizations. For example, see Peer Resources at www.peer.ca and the National Peer-Helping Association at www.peerhelping.org on the World Wide Web.
A Call to Action -- And Learning
My doctoral work focused on developing and evaluating a national action learning program, a program I have directed for the past five years. I have spoken to numerous action learning practitioners and clients. Clearly action learning has achieved almost mythical status among many of us. The process is practical, basic and timely, and yet theoretical, abstract and eternal. We have strong perceptions of what action learning should and should not be, and what it should and should not include. Our perceptions may have us stuck.
Fifty years ago, Reginald Revans fought hard against the dogma of traditional educational institutions. At that time (and still too often now), learning was interpreted only as that which was conveyed by an expert in a classroom. Universities and colleges were viewed as the keepers of our learning.
With the help of pioneers, such as Revans, Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, we have come to realize that without practice there is no knowledge. One hopes we will learn that the broader the range of that practice, the broader the range of our learning.