What Is Action Learning?

Action Learning Sets are one of those concepts that we think we know about, but when we really think about it we are often a bit vague – this in turn suggests that the benefits are also poorly understood. It was with this in mind that I recently ran an Action Learning Set for a mixed group as a demonstration of the value in creating new and deeper thinking among the set members.


The room had its fair share of sceptics, added to which we were in a false situation, in that we effectively had an audience, which does little to engender the safe, trusted space needed for truly creative thinking; but not to be defeated we pressed ahead.

The set was made up of eight volunteers – in my opinion the maximum number for an effective set – facilitated by myself and observed by a further dozen or so people. We sat in a circle with all members able to make eye contact with one another. After agreeing which member of the group would ‘present’ their issue, we listened carefully as the Presenter laid out the facts of their situation as they saw it and the various factors affecting or preventing him from moving forward. Members of the set listened intently and in silence, after around 5 minutes the scene was set and I, the Facilitator, invited any clarification questions, this completed, we went into open questions.


A critical aspect of Action Learning is that it is not advice giving – all questions are open and are in no way ‘leading’. Participants come with a sense of curiosity and an understanding that the right solution is the one the Presenter works out for themselves. As a new group, it was no surprise that they found it difficult to resist giving the benefit of their extensive experience and several times we had to pause and reframe questions to be truly open. Well-timed and short questions usually have the greatest impact, as was the case with this group – we watched the presenter’s facial expressions in response to “and what else?” – the question drew him up short and then he went first into deep thought before a real light bulb moment.


Of-course, Action Learning is not just about thinking things through, the clue is in the name – it’s about taking action. From our short session of thoughtful, open questioning our presenter went away with a number of very practical actions on which he will report back to the group. His reaction – “totally immersive, a powerful way to become unstuck”.


This is a learning experience not just for the Presenter, but also for the whole group. And the naysayers? Everyone declared themselves on-board, with the exception of two, who declared themselves scientists only interested in facts!

For the 90% plus the BENEFITS OF ACTION LEARNING include: –

  • Actionable outcomesHow to grow business
  • Long lasting problem solving competency
  • Enhanced creativity & curiosity
  • New questioning & listening skills
  • Increased resilience/ability to deal with stress
  • Improved leadership
  • Team building
  • Heightened emotional intelligence



If you would like to experience the benefits for yourself, we will, (subject to demand), be running two FREE ACTION LEARNING SETS in Manchester during July and September 2017. If you would like to be involved please drop us a line at enquiries@yibp.co.uk for a chance to be included – first come, first served – good luck.


The full PROCESS, (not all of which is covered above), is made up of a number of steps:

  1. Arriving Round
  2. Bidding
  3. Presenting
  4. Questions
  5. Action
  6. Reflection
  7. Process Review


About the Author: Fran McArthur is an  ILM accredited action learning facilitator, business coach, trainer and no-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of up to £10m/100 employees and who wish to effect positive change. She collaborates with them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach

Successful Education

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel” – Socrates

What is the purpose of education? Surely it should be about preparing our children for the world they are about to inherit? Certainly, many students leave school, college and university with a string of ‘impressive’ qualifications, but many do not. Either way, this doesn’t mean they are fully prepared for the world, whether it be finding a job or, as may soon be the case, finding a way to live in a world where robots do the jobs.

Here are some noteworthy stats to consider:

• 53% of recent college graduates are under or unemployed
• 45% of recent college graduates are still living with their parents
• 65% of today’s grade-school children will end up in jobs that haven’t been invented yet
• Millennials will have 15-20 jobs over the course of their working lives
• The World Economic Forum reports that creativity will become one of the top three skills in demand by 2020
• Emotional Intelligence, never before in the top 10, will become the sixth most in-demand skill by 2020

I agree with Socrates: “tell and repeat” teaching is not enough. We need to help children learn how to learn, get excited, fail but keep trying and realize they can make a difference to their lives. What I see and experience in schools is a great deal of dedicated hard work, commitment and care, but it is within a system that leaves little room for creativity and the teaching of resilience which I believe are two key ingredients of education. There are, of course, some schools and teachers managing this but their work is against the grain of the system.

I recently went to see a screening of Most Likely to Succeed (directed by Greg Whiteley) which recognizes the need to change and “aims to help schools re-image their purpose and create learning experiences that prepare kids for life”. The main message of the film is that children of all ages like and want to learn through work that is relevant, meaningful and hands on. I was inspired by the viewing and loved seeing the students of High Tech High using project based learning as a tool which allowed them to choose what they would work on, work in teams, fail but try again – and all with a deadline of having to present their experiences and learnings to their fellow, students, staff, parents and community.

Two people who have rightly been banging-on for quite some time about the need for creativity in schools are Ken Robinson – no apologies for recommending again his famed 2006 TED talk Schools Kill Creativity – and Seth Godin, whose manifesto Stop Killing Dreams is well worth reading. Also, newly out in paperback, is Angela Duckworth’s fascinating, rigorous and practical GRIT – why passion and resilience are the secrets to success.

Let’s keep weaving creativity and resilience into our work with children (and adults too). Keep discussing and campaigning, wherever and whenever we can, to change the education system. We owe it to the future of our children.



Rachel is a business & educational psychologist. After working for many years in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past seven years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field.