About this paper

Appears in:
Page: 4733 (abstract only)
Publication year: 2012
ISBN: 978-84-616-0763-1
ISSN: 2340-1095

Conference name: 5th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 19-21 November, 2012
Location: Madrid, Spain

A PROTEAN PRACTICE? ISSUES IN THE USES AND PRACTICE OF ACTION LEARNING AMONGST PRACTITIONERS AND ACADEMICS

C. Brook

Portsmouth University (UNITED KINGDOM)
Action learning has been in use in a wide variety of organisations for over 50 years, and whilst it has often been thought of an HRD practice it has also been used in higher education, and by no means exclusively in Business and Management Schools, as might perhaps be expected given its origins. This paper draws on case illustrations derived from interviews with 24 academics working within higher education institutions in the UK and using action learning as a part of their teaching practice. It also draws on interviews with 21 practitioners using action learning in the UK National Health Service as part of their personal and organisational development practice, by way of comparison. The first section of this paper will examine Revans’ classical principles (RCP) of action learning, and will focus in particular on Willis’s (2004) analytical framework which was developed as a means of inspecting action learning practice against Revans’ classical principles.

The second section of the paper will address NHS and HE practitioners’ perspectives on action learning. In this section I consider interviewees’ views of the following: the meaning of action learning, the question of how structured action learning should (or should not) be, the focus on individual and collective problems, the question of personal or organisational development as the problem focus in action learning, and finally, evidence interviewees’ bring to the question of the effectiveness or otherwise of action learning. The paper will end with conclusions and reflections on some of the principal findings from this piece of research.

As derived from the consistencies in Revans’ writings, conventional or classical action learning adheres to certain key principles (Pedler, Burgoyne and Brook 2005). These principles may be said to include the following:

• The requirement for action as a basis for learning;
• Profound personal development resulting from reflection upon action;
• Working with problems (no right answers) not puzzles (susceptible to expert knowledge);
• Problems being sponsored and aimed at organisational as well as personal development;
• Action learners working in sets of peers (“comrades in adversity”) to support and challenge each other;
• The search for fresh questions and “q” (questioning insight) takes primacy over access to expert knowledge or “p”).

From the evidence of this study, it would appear that HE and NHS practitioners do share a number of approaches to their practice (such as working in sets, using questioning, having groundrules). A number of the rules of engagement and set operation which Willis identifies are in place according to interviewees from both sectors. In many of these cases the degree of correspondence with Revans’ theory-intact would appear to be far greater than Willis (2004) was able to determine from her 10 US based cases. However, HE respondents place a lessened emphasis on action in the workplace and the difference is to do with context. In HE the main aim is educative, and to support people in gaining qualifications, not necessarily to support them in achieving specific actions in the workplace. Moreover, time constraints mitigate against spending much time on action in the workplace.
@InProceedings{BROOK2012APR,
author = {Brook, C.},
title = {A PROTEAN PRACTICE? ISSUES IN THE USES AND PRACTICE OF ACTION LEARNING AMONGST PRACTITIONERS AND ACADEMICS},
series = {5th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation},
booktitle = {ICERI2012 Proceedings},
isbn = {978-84-616-0763-1},
issn = {2340-1095},
publisher = {IATED},
location = {Madrid, Spain},
month = {19-21 November, 2012},
year = {2012},
pages = {4733}}
TY - CONF
AU - C. Brook
TI - A PROTEAN PRACTICE? ISSUES IN THE USES AND PRACTICE OF ACTION LEARNING AMONGST PRACTITIONERS AND ACADEMICS
SN - 978-84-616-0763-1/2340-1095
PY - 2012
Y1 - 19-21 November, 2012
CI - Madrid, Spain
JO - 5th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
JA - ICERI2012 Proceedings
SP - 4733
EP - 4733
ER -
C. Brook (2012) A PROTEAN PRACTICE? ISSUES IN THE USES AND PRACTICE OF ACTION LEARNING AMONGST PRACTITIONERS AND ACADEMICS, ICERI2012 Proceedings, p. 4733.
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