loren Eric Swanson: Action learning in Action by Michael J. Marquardt

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Action learning in Action by Michael J. Marquardt

Marquardt, Michael J., Action Learning in Action: Transforming Problems and People for World-Class Organizational Learning. Mountain View, California: Davies-Black Publications, 1999.

Action learning is a powerful problem-solving process as well as a program that has an amazing capacity to simultaneously effect powerful individual and organizational change. P. 1

Learning and acting must become concurrent, since too many demands and too little time prohibit an exclusive focus on one or the other. P. 3

What is Action Learning?
Simply described, action learning is both a process and a powerful program that involves a small group of people solving real problems while at the same time focusing on what they are learning and how their learning can benefit each group member and the organization as a whole. P. 4

Perhaps action learning’s greatest value is its capacity for equipping individuals, teams, and organizations to more effectively respond to change. Learning is what makes action learning strategic rather than tactical. Fresh thinking and new learning are needed if we are to avoid responding to today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions while tomorrow’s challenges engulf us (Dilworth, 1998). P. 4

Action learning is built around a problem (project, challenge, issue, or task), the resolution of which is of high importance to an individual, team, and/or organization. The problem should be significant, be within the responsibility of the team, and provide opportunity for learning. Selection of the problem is fundamental to action learning because we learn best when undertaking some action, which can then be reflected upon. P. 5

For action learning advocates, there is no real learning unless action is taken, for one is never sure the idea or plan will be effective until it has been implemented. P. 7

“When you read and are taught, you gain knowledge; when you take action, you gain experience; when you reflect, you gain an understanding of both.”
--Anonymous p. 7

[A]ction learning programs are built around six distinct interactive components:
A problem
The group
The questioning and reflection process
The commitment to taking action
The commitment to learning
The facilitator
Action learning, when all its essential elements are incorporated, has tremendous, far-reaching power and strength. The key to attaining the inherent potency of action learning is to fully and properly include all six of these components, each of which complements and leverages the other five. P. 23
Moreover, the project should be a problem and not a puzzle. A puzzle can be defined as a perplexing question to which an answer or solution already exists but has not beeen found. A problem, on the other hand, has no existing solution. Different people will come up with different ideas and suggestions as to ho to solve it. In other words, there may be a number of possible solutions that might be satisfactory. P. 25

Experience and research have shown that action learning programs tend to be most effective when the group members exhibit the following attributes:
· Commitment to solving the problem
· Ability to listen, to question self and others
· Willingness to be open and to learn from other group members
· Valuing of others and respect for them
· Commitment to taking action and achieving success
· Awareness of own and others’ ability to learn and develop

At the heart of action learning is the process of reflection, which is designed to develop questioning insight, or, as (Reg) Revans notes, ‘the capacity to ask fresh questions in conditions of ignorance, risk, and confusion, when nobody know what to do next. P. 33

In action learning, members should be open to trying out new ways of doing things, experimenting, reflecting on experiences, considering the results or effects of the experience, and repeating the cycle by trying out newly gained knowledge in different situations. P.33

“We had the experience but missed the meaning.”
--T.S. Eliot p. 33

Merely producing reports and recommendations for someone else to implement results in diminished commitment, effectiveness, and learning on the part of the members. Being required to implement, however, prevents the group from resembling a think tank or debating group, which may be intellectually stimulating and emotionally releasing but may have no real-world impact. P. 33

The job of the facilitator is not to teach but to create an ‘atmosphere wherein the [members] can learn for and from themselves, to develop confidence in themselves, to reflect and develop new ideas (Lawlor, 1991, p. 256). P. 38


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