The power of action learning in audience development training

In the design of ADESTE's audience development training module, action learning was chosen as one of four main components because it stimulates reflection and problem solving.

During the 4th ADESTE project meeting in January 2015, Ruth Cook, Managing Director of Action Learning Associates, gave an introduction to action learning and led the ADESTE consortium through two action learning sets so they could participate, observe and learn.

ADESTE sat down with Ruth Cook to understand the power of action learning and what makes it different from other problem solving methods.


ADESTE: For those not familar, what is action learning?
Ruth Cook: Action learning is a process which involves working on real challenges, using the knowledge and skills of a small group of people combined with skilled questioning, to re-interpret old and familiar concepts and produce fresh ideas.

Action learning gives you a simple yet powerful tool for personal and professional development, the opportunity to work on real problems and implement solutions – management development which is learning by doing, and a powerful way for leaders to learn from other leaders.

An action learning set can be in-house with peers from an organisation or a cross sector set for leaders which bring together top level staff from different sectors and professional backgrounds. It can be a way to gain support and be challenged by peers and a chance to work smarter and find creative ways to bring about change. It also provides a safe environment to explore new ways of thinking and doing and to test beliefs and assumptions and learn what works. The process continues after each session when learning is taken back to the workplace and translated into action.


Why should people be excited about this approach?
Action Learning is a dynamic and deeply reflective way of developing critical thinking, finding new solutions and learning from and with your peers. It is an approach that allows you to unlock your own knowledge, wisdom and experience in order to explore and deepen your understanding of creating change in your work. Many people who experience action learning report that it's a truly transformational, energising development experience.


Having worked with members of the ADESTE consortium and ADESTE trainers, why do you think action learning will be particularly helpful for the project’s audience development training module?
During the training the ADESTE participants will work with their peers as an action learning set and so develop a peer learning network of colleagues who face similar  challenges  in their  roles. The sets will focus on implementation of the training programme, providing support and challenge from their peers. Action learning will be the bridge from learning to action – putting into practice the concepts they have learnt about and making it a reality in their organisation.


How can action learning be adapted to different cultural contexts?
We have delivered action learning and action learning facilitator training in many countries and in different cultural contexts, including working in foreign languages and with interpreters.  The process is robust and once set members have learnt the ground rules and skills of active listening, reflection and asking open questions it works well in most cultural contexts.  Indeed, we often find that diversity adds richness to the action learning process. The tradition of sitting in a circle and story telling is a common part of many people’s cultures. Senior Associate, John Heywood has written an article called Communication beyond Language (Training Journal, Nov 2013) in which he explores this issue.  A copy of the article is available to download from the ALA website.

Ruth Cook, Managing Director of Action Learning Associates

Ruth Cook is an independent management consultant and trainer, with over 25 years experience working on leadership development and action learning across commercial and public sectors in the UK and internationally. Having set up in 1998 her company is now firmly established as one of the leading providers of training for action learning facilitators and at the forefront of cutting edge techniques such as virtual action learning. She specialises in action learning facilitation and training running regular ILM approved open courses for individuals or tailor-made courses for organisations who want to set up in-house networks of action learning sets. Ruth also delivers cross sector face to face and virtual action learning sets for leaders as well as supporting organisations in designing and implementing action learning programmes. For experienced facilitators she offers CPD master classes and training in virtual action learning.  Current and recent customers include: Arts Council England, British Council Australia, British Red Cross, Creative Scotland, Clore Social Leadership Programme, Ernst & Young, Heineken International, NSPCC, Oxford University Press, The Body Shop, UN-Habitat and University of Glasgow.
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