Action Learning (Learning Sets)
Action learning is a group-based approach to learning. Our purpose in this chapter is twofold. First, to convey and demystify the meaning of this approach to learning. Secondly, to show how the approach can be used to foster reflective dialogue and reflective learning.
The term 'action learning' is sometimes criticized as a jargon phrase that misleads and hides meaning. We use the term to acknowledge the origins and core practice embraced in the term. The term 'learning set' is increasingly used synonymously with action learning in higher education to denote the same form of group-based learning. We will use both terms in this chapter. The word 'set' conveys the notion of a group of the same members who meet over a specific time period. The set is led, at least initially, by a facilitator who has some appreciation and experience of the process by which the group operates and may also have expertise in the field of study with which the students are engaged.
This chapter is necessarily an abridged version of what we could say about action learning but will be sufficient, with other parts of the book, to embark on using the approach in higher education. Indeed, we would suggest that when included with material on facilitation, reflective dialogue and reflective practice, action learning may provide the basis for the beginning of a new approach for teachers in higher education. For readers wishing to further their understanding of action learning we recommend, McGill and Brockbank (2004); Morgan (1988); Pedler (1992); Revans (1980); Weinstein (1995).
Action learning has only recently been introduced to higher education (McGill and Brockbank, 2004; McGill and Beaty, 2001). The origins of action learning rest with Reg Revans (Revans, 1980) who introduced the approach in organizational contexts after the Second World War. It remained in industrial and public sector use, for example the National Health Service until the early 1980s when introduced into postgraduate courses in higher education. The delay in application to higher education was due largely to the consideration that because it was used primarily for