What Is Action Learning? Definition and Steps Involved

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 7 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Developing leaders is crucial to maintaining a productive work environment. One way to develop leadership skills in the workplace is through action learning (AL). This process encourages leaders to look at challenging situations from a different perspective and reflect on the steps it takes to make any necessary improvements. In this article, we discuss why AL is important in the workplace, describe what its relation is to reflection and share how you can use it to improve your leadership skills.

What is action learning?

Action learning involves addressing workplace issues, reflecting on results and learning from experience. Teams use it most often when tackling complex challenges in team settings. An AL coach may facilitate the learning process and encourage reflection on each step. The goal is to develop the individual skills of each team member, encouraging them to become active learners while also being insightful into how they make decisions.

Large businesses or organisations often use AL to encourage teamwork. It includes the following:

  • Identifying a workplace issue

  • Determining an action to take to address the issue

  • Enlisting a group of peers to overcome the issue

  • Reflecting on each step until they find a solution

Related: What Is Project Scope Management? (And How to Create a Plan)

How does reflection relate to action learning?

Reflection is a necessary part of AL in the workplace. It encourages reflecting on your strengths and areas for improvement as a leader and learning how other people approach workplace challenges. These questions can facilitate reflection:

  • Why did I take this approach?

  • How did my approach differ from my teammates'?

  • If I had the chance, what would I do differently?

  • What surprised me most about the AL process?

  • What have I learned from this process?

  • What did I find most challenging about resolving the issue?

  • What do I expect to happen going forward?

  • How did my beliefs influence my solution?

  • What steps did I take to recommend this solution?

  • How would I describe my approach to problem-solving?

Related: What Does a Project Controller Do? (And How to Become One)

Why use action learning?

AL encourages teamwork, critical thinking, leadership and problem-solving. It uses the skills and creativity of each team member to meet an objective. By reflecting on each process, team members can identify the relative merits of each one. AL also encourages the development of the team and each individual. Because this process exposes team members to others with unique skill sets and different points of view, it allows them to develop unique problem-solving skills.

Reflection also helps leaders develop other skills, like communication, while encouraging them to propose new ideas and methods to address current challenges, which can be valuable to an employer. The AL process offers many benefits, including providing creative solutions to current organisational issues and developing important leadership skills. Also, involving team members in the problem-solving process shows that the business values the opinions of its employees. While AL focuses on teamwork, it also encourages workplace autonomy.

Related: Learning Styles for Career Development

How to use action learning

AL can improve with practise as you get into the habit of reflecting as the process moves forward. The following steps show how the process evolves:

1. Identify the issue

The first step is to identify the issue that requires addressing. This may require asking additional questions of your team to understand the full extent of the issue that you're focusing on for active learning. This may be a current situation or a hypothetical one designed for the purpose of learning. You may use case studies, business simulations, previous workplace situations or even a recent issue the organisation is addressing.

Related: What Does a Learning Designer Do? And How to Become One

2. Create the team

Next, assemble the team you've selected. As the goal is to encourage effective teamwork, you may want to choose individuals who work together daily or have compatible working styles. This can help each of them appreciate alternative ways of thinking. You can also group team members that have different skill sets, so they can combine these skills to increase their effectiveness as a team.

Related: What Does a Learning and Development Manager Do? (With FAQ)

3. Ask questions and identify solutions

Now, the group can start asking each other questions and identifying viable solutions. The questions can be open-ended and lead to a discussion of each person's approach. For example, 'What are some issues that could arise during this project?' or 'What do you think is the biggest challenge we could face when implementing our solution?'. This can help get everyone thinking similarly.

Related: What Are Learning Skills? (With Definitions and Examples)

4. Take action and reflect

Next, decide on the best approach to the issue. The group can perform research, draw up an action plan and implement it in the workplace. You may find that your initial approach to the challenge requires revising. This can provide the opportunity to learn from each other by trying new solutions or looking back on your initial process to see what next steps to take.

5. Continue to reflect

The reflection process continues throughout the AL. As you reflect on your successes and identify areas for improvement, you can continue to adapt your approach and incorporate innovative ideas into the next problem-solving step. This can be challenging, but holding each other accountable helps keep everyone focused on each step of problem-solving.

Related: Interview Question: 'Tell Me About Your Education Background'

6. Repeat until you find a solution

You may identify ongoing challenges as you continue to rectify the issue. The group can also look at where they are and want to be with the problem-solving process. This can help them realise their goals and determine the effectiveness of their current approaches. Once you find a solution to challenges, you can move on and show appreciation for your team for their hard work.

Important tasks for the action leader

Because each element is important to the AL process, it may be beneficial to have an action leader. This person facilitates the productivity of the group. Here are a few important tasks for the action leader:

  • Encouraging reflection: The action leader provides the opportunity for reflection by asking questions about the issue, encouraging everyone to think about and be accountable for their actions. This is important because it helps each person understand how they approached the issue and encourages them to develop effective AL processes.

  • Facilitating action: The action leader is the one that implements the goal or solution during problem-solving. They're the ones instigating action. It's important to decide who among you is going to take these next steps, as this can be a challenging process that may involve taking risks with business projects.

  • Asking questions: The action leader helps enable reflection by asking the group thought-provoking questions. These can be questions that prompt the group to think about their actions and make sure everyone agrees with the issue, solution or next steps.

  • Assigning teams: The action leader helps assign different teams to facilitate each step of the process. For example, if you're assessing the scope of a particular challenge, one person can oversee this task while others can take notes, research solutions and create action plans.

  • Facilitating communication: The action leader helps ensure that communication between themselves and team members is clear and effective. They may facilitate effective communication with each member by helping them find the most efficient way to communicate their ideas within the group.

  • Providing structure: The action leader helps set the structure for the group, so they can help set up a schedule for each person to follow and identify roles in the group. For example, they can assign one person to facilitate each session and ensure everyone has essential information for their role.

  • Prioritising learning: The action leader is also helpful in prioritising learning, continuous education and training. They can create and facilitate an action plan and provide support for the group.

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