Exploring action learning: how to use and promote ‘learning through action’ in challenging times

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [Northeastern University]On: 12 November 2014, At: 18:03Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>Action Learning: Research and PracticePublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/calr20</p><p>Exploring action learning: how to useand promote learning through actionin challenging timesJohn Heywood aa The Old Parsonage , Main Road, Alvington, Gloucestershire, GL156AT, UKPublished online: 11 Mar 2009.</p><p>To cite this article: John Heywood (2009) Exploring action learning: how to use and promotelearning through action in challenging times, Action Learning: Research and Practice, 6:1, 89-95,DOI: 10.1080/14767330902731483</p><p>To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14767330902731483</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (theContent) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever orhowsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arisingout of the use of the Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp;Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p><p>http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/calr20http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/14767330902731483http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14767330902731483http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p></li><li><p>NETWORK REPORT</p><p>Exploring action learning: how to use and promote learning throughaction in challenging times</p><p>A one-day conference at Henley Business School 30 September, 2008</p><p>John Heywood</p><p>The Old Parsonage, Main Road, Alvington, Gloucestershire, GL15 6AT, UK</p><p>Introduction</p><p>Action learning (AL) has been called the engine of the learning organisation. It has been</p><p>demonstrated that it can help individuals adapt to, and be more effective in, our fast-changing</p><p>world. This paper reports on a one-day conference held at Henley Business School. The confer-</p><p>ence was jointly organised by Henley Business School and by the International Foundation for</p><p>Action Learning. The aim of the conference was to provide space, time and the opportunity to</p><p>explore aspects of action learning practice. Participants came from diverse backgrounds both in</p><p>the UK and in Europe. Various sectors were represented including corporate, central govern-</p><p>ment, health, independent and academic. Using the principles of Open Space, participants</p><p>generated the discussion topics and created their own individual agendas.</p><p>The attendees</p><p>The organising committee included Jan Hall, Fiona Scrase, Mark Russell, Sean Cunningham,</p><p>Anthony Aitken, Charlotte Boughen, Moira McLaughlin and John Heywood.</p><p>Participants included experienced action learning facilitators including International</p><p>Foundation for Action Learning (IFAL) members, academic researchers, action learning</p><p>practitioners, independent consultants, development programme sponsors and people new to</p><p>action learning.</p><p>The location</p><p>The conference took place at Henley Business School on 30 September, 2008. The facilities</p><p>comprised a large, light, open main room and a number of breakout rooms, one of which was</p><p>set aside for those wishing to work as an action learning set.</p><p>The purpose of the conference and its objectives</p><p>The over-arching purpose was to better understand how to use and promote action learning.</p><p>Within that purpose we articulated the following objectives:</p><p>. to create the opportunity for discussions around crucial questions in action learning;</p><p>. to create an opportunity to network across a wide community;</p><p>ISSN 1476-7333 print/ISSN 1476-7341 online</p><p># 2009 Taylor &amp; FrancisDOI: 10.1080/14767330902731483</p><p>http://www.informaworld.com</p><p>Email: john@jpheywood.co.uk</p><p>Action Learning: Research and Practice</p><p>Vol. 6, No. 1, March 2009, 8995</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Nor</p><p>thea</p><p>ster</p><p>n U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 18:</p><p>03 1</p><p>2 N</p><p>ovem</p><p>ber </p><p>2014</p></li><li><p>. to explore ideas, questions, issues, concerns relating to action learning and its use;</p><p>. to explore action learnings potential to support change;</p><p>. to share views and experience; and</p><p>. to facilitate delegates to generate the content for the day on the day.</p><p>The methodology used the Open Space concept</p><p>The conference was conducted using Open Space technology. This methodology is a . . .simple, powerful way to catalyse effective working conversations . . .. The advertisement forthe conference had previously signalled the use of Open Space.</p><p>Open Space comprises four principles, one law and one rule and is described below. The four</p><p>principles are:</p><p>(1) Whoever comes are the right people meaning that the people best qualified to work</p><p>on an issue are those who really care about it and want to be involved.</p><p>(2) Whenever it starts is the right time recognising that creativity doesnt always run to</p><p>the clock.</p><p>(3) Whatever happens is the only thing that could have freeing us from thinking along</p><p>could have, should have lines so that we can concentrate on what is actually happening</p><p>in the here and now.</p><p>(4) When its over, its over allowing us time freedom to get the work done in the amount</p><p>of time it really takes as opposed to sticking rigidly to a pre-defined schedule.</p><p>The one law of Open Space the law of two feet encourages individuals to take responsi-</p><p>bility and decide for themselves where, when and even how they can make the best contribution.</p><p>So, for example, if I feel I am no longer able to contribute to a discussion or I feel I am no longer</p><p>learning anything from a discussion, it is my right and responsibility to move on and find the</p><p>place where I can contribute and learn.</p><p>The one simple rule urges everyone to be fully responsible for the quality of their own work</p><p>and their experience.</p><p>What happened?</p><p>The main room was set out with a large circle of chairs. A welcome pack was placed on each</p><p>chair. It included the original advertising flyer, a description of Open Space, a list of delegates,</p><p>a brief description of the work of IFAL and a partly completed agenda for the day. The agenda</p><p>contained the suggested times for discussion slots to start and end and there were four discussion</p><p>slots of approximately one hour each during the day.</p><p>The space within the circle of chairs was empty apart from sheets of paper and marker pens,</p><p>which lay on the floor.</p><p>Our facilitator, Fiona Scrase, introduced the event with a few simple instructions. These</p><p>same instructions were included in the welcome pack and presented on flip charts around the</p><p>room. Other flip charts were headed Feedback and Observations and people were encouraged</p><p>to add comments as and when they came to mind.</p><p>It was explained that, in accordance with the principles of Open Space, the days discussion</p><p>topics would be created by us, the people in the circle, and that the marketplace (a large blank</p><p>wall area) would become our agenda.</p><p>Following the introductions and explanations, Fiona invited everyone to take a few</p><p>moments to think of the discussion topics they would like to bring to the marketplace. We</p><p>90 J. Heywood</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Nor</p><p>thea</p><p>ster</p><p>n U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 18:</p><p>03 1</p><p>2 N</p><p>ovem</p><p>ber </p><p>2014</p></li><li><p>were then invited to take sheets of paper from the centre of the circle and write our topics on</p><p>them.</p><p>Topics were transferred to the marketplace where pre-arranged time/space slots had been</p><p>marked out. Any common subjects or ideas were noted and grouped together in time slots by</p><p>their owners. This created our agenda for the day and, once this was created, each person</p><p>signed up for whichever sessions they needed or wanted to attend. Discussions began almost</p><p>immediately.</p><p>Each meeting convenor (each topics owner) had been asked to record the main points</p><p>discussed, the conclusions reached, the actions suggested and the names of those who attended.</p><p>Hand written flip charts were thereby created for each discussion.</p><p>Four discussion slots of approximately one hour each and several breakout rooms allowed</p><p>for several discussions to be held concurrently. Twenty-six topics were initially generated by</p><p>the group. When common topics had been grouped together in the marketplace, eighteen</p><p>remained. They were as follows:</p><p>. How can we measure its [action learnings] effectiveness? / Sharing stories about</p><p>evaluation.. Using action learning with project and programme teams.. Reflecting on my/our own practice as an action learning facilitator.. Action learning and coaching how are they similar/complementary?. How do you sell action learning in a productivity-focused organisation where it is seen as</p><p>an unnecessary overhead? / selling action learning. Should we focus on the model/</p><p>process or on the outcomes/benefits?. Creating an environment that helps set members go beyond the superficial.. How do/dont you do action learning? How to get started / How to quality assure action</p><p>learning?. How to use action learning in a more flexible way, i.e. as a one-off session, as part of</p><p>something else.. How to identify the best opportunities for using action learning within organisations. /</p><p>Hearing about different organisations appetite for AL: what draws them to the process?. Should I monitor AL sets that are self-facilitated? / At what point could/should AL sets</p><p>become self-facilitated? / How to maintain momentum with a set that has been going</p><p>for some time and/or where set members goals are long term.. How can we explain AL to people new to it?. How to effectively manage an AL programme whilst doing the day job?. Non-intrusive support. Some learning sets take off early and become very effective. Some</p><p>do not. How do we support their growth, functioning and effectiveness without inhibiting</p><p>their autonomy or taking over their responsibility for learning? / How to get a good start for</p><p>an AL set motivating the participants preparing a supportive learning environment /</p><p>Action learning and an action learning environment / Voluntary versus compulsory partici-</p><p>pation in sets.. Learning styles/interpersonal differences. Do some people take to learning in learning sets</p><p>more easily? Do some people benefit more than others from learning in a learning set?</p><p>How do we support the different kinds of people to get the most out of the process?. How important is P learning in AL? What would we want as a written resource? How</p><p>could it be organised?. What is the future supportive role of IFAL?. Action learning for young people? (Added to the agenda as a drawing).. Im interested in what other people are interested in.</p><p>Action Learning: Research and Practice 91</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Nor</p><p>thea</p><p>ster</p><p>n U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 18:</p><p>03 1</p><p>2 N</p><p>ovem</p><p>ber </p><p>2014</p></li><li><p>Discussion slots took up much of the remaining day, which concluded with a plenary session</p><p>to review, reflect upon and provide feedback for what had been achieved, learned and</p><p>observed.</p><p>Photographs of all flipcharts from discussion sessions were sent out to all participants after</p><p>the event.</p><p>What were the supposed outcomes meant to be?</p><p>In line with the conferences objectives, the real outcomes were the relevant, open discussions</p><p>that emerged from the application of Open Space methodology. People networked, connected</p><p>and were clearly energised and motivated to contribute to, and learn from, the discussions</p><p>they attended. Issues and ideas were explored and this is made clear by the points recorded</p><p>by each group. Further and more detailed conclusions may have been reached but this is not</p><p>always apparent from the recorded material. Similarly, actions and next steps may have been</p><p>committed to, but again, this is not always clear.</p><p>Two discussion snapshots follow. The intention is to give a flavour of what happened, what</p><p>was discussed and what conclusions were reached.</p><p>Example 1: How can AL help young people?</p><p>The discussion started with questions on the age group(s) that might benefit most and we fixed on</p><p>1418 year olds.</p><p>Drawing from our own backgrounds and personal experiences (none of us fell into the age</p><p>group wed settled on) we talked about the problems that young people face and what they might</p><p>want or value. One of the group had moved, as a young teenager, from a Steiner education with</p><p>its principle of the right to question, to a comprehensive school with its emphasis on chalk and</p><p>talk. We noted that our general education system programs us to give the right answer.</p><p>The problems faced by 1418 year olds were discussed and listed as:</p><p>. the crazy, complex fast-moving world we live in;</p><p>. puberty and being lost in a sea of hormonal changes;</p><p>. society and peer pressure;</p><p>. education is chalk and talk and questioning discouraged its all one-way; and</p><p>. living in a society thats ill at ease knife crime, feral youth.</p><p>The question what might young people want? brought out the following:</p><p>. some understanding safe support;</p><p>. self-esteem and confidence;</p><p>. a sense of belonging;</p><p>. learning how to communicate;</p><p>. energies directed and focused;</p><p>. a sense of being valued; and</p><p>. having a voice thats valued.</p><p>In concluding, we came up with several possibilities for the implementation of action learning</p><p>in schools. Action learning for teachers could be applied to solve school problems and could</p><p>be subsequently implemented with pupils. It could equally be used in learning projects to</p><p>provide an additional element of support; to promote teamwork; to understand the connections</p><p>between thinking, feeling and doing and to build self-awareness and responsibility.</p><p>92 J. Heywood</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Nor</p><p>thea</p><p>ster</p><p>n U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 18:</p><p>03 1</p><p>2 N</p><p>ovem</p><p>ber </p><p>2014</p></li><li><p>One element of action learning the agreed ground rules or contract could be applied at</p><p>many levels and may already exist in some schools. Boundaries and duties of care could be</p><p>agreed using a facilitated, collaborative approach.</p><p>Questions arising from the discussion included how best to arrange set membership</p><p>and whether sets could be self-facilitated. If not, then who would facilitate? We also</p><p>discussed the extent to which teenagers might or might not adhere to codes of confidentiality.</p><p>Our thoughts need to be tested and developed further through interaction with teena...</p></li></ul>

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