Avoiding the pitfalls of Action Learning

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  • literature on action learning remainsdescriptive and anecdotal (Neubauer, 1992;Pedler and Boutall, 1992; Graham, 1995).Although Heidari and Galvin (2003) attempt

    to examine the effect of participating in

    wrong the reputation of Action Learning isdamaged.Although Action Learning is not always

    comfortable, we want to convey the hugepotential it has to support the nursing

    1471-5953/$ - see frondoi:10.1016/S1471-595is a need to distinguish between what is ActionAction Learning sets on the education ofstudent nurses, their interpretation of whatis an Action Learning Set differs from thatused by many of those cited above. There

    Learning and what is essentially an Action

    profession in the current climate of rapidchange in the health service. However, wewould like to see a debate that focuses on:

    Who are the best people to participate inAction Learning?Avoiding the piLearning

    Agenda for Change and the ModernisationAgenda are promoting rapid change withinthe health service and education has animportant role in supporting staff developingthemselves and their service. An innovativeeducational approach that has potential tofacilitate these developments is ActionLearning.Action learning was originally developed

    by Revans (1983) as the most effectiveway of developing managers. Small groupsof comrades in adversity were seen to learnmore from each others failures andvictories rather than from expert instruction.The overriding proposition is that learninghad to be equal to the rate of change inorganisations. This form of grouplearning lends itself to todays health serviceadmirably.Over the past 10 years and most noticeably

    in the last five years Action Learning has beenincluded on programmes to produce nurseleaders (RCN, 2002), and there are anecdotalreports of action learning being used to furthermasters research (University of Westminister,2001). Unfortunately, the majority of the

    Guest EditorialLearning approach, e.g., reflective practice.We risk losing sight of some of the keyprincipals of Action Learning theory byadapting it too freely, thus rendering it

    t matterc 2003 Published by Elsevier Ltd.3(03)00069-6tfalls of Action

    ineffective and creating problems rather thansolutions.It is not easy. Revans deliberately refused

    to provide a succinct, declarative statement ofwhat action learning is. Although frustratingperhaps this provides nursing with anopportunity that we need to grasp with bothhands. We have just completed an educationalaudit of six Action Learning Sets involving 37individuals that met monthly for one year.Where change in practice was reported, theindividuals were proactive, challenging,interactive and committed in their learningsets. This work is currently being written upfor publication.We feel strongly that not enough emphasis

    is put on the framing of questions withinexisting action learning sets in a way thatactively promotes learning. Another neglectedarea is the preparation of and ongoing supportfor facilitators. Many action learning setsfavour support over challenge, advicegiving over problem solving, social time/interaction over learning and complaining/complacency over a real commitment to takingaction to resolve issues. Thus when things go What is the most effective way of running anAction Learning Set?

    What sort of formal training should beprovided for Action Learning Facilitators?

    Nurse Education in Practice (2003) 3, 183184 183

  • Should there be a national network offacilitators who might provide that formaleducation for this important and challengingrole while offering support and guidance tothose who provide it?

    Carole DavisSeniror Lecturer in NursingThe Middlesex University

    Dublin, IrelandE-mail: Caroldwe10@aol.com

    Joan CurzioDirector of Practice Development

    London South BankDublin, Ireland


    Graham I 1995 Reflective practice: using action learninggroup mechanism. Nurse Education Today 15:2832

    Heidari F, Galvin K 2003 Action learning groups:can they help students develop their knowledgeand skill? Nurse Education in Practice 3:4955

    Neubauer J 1992 Action Learning: Concepts,Actions and Results. Kings Fund College,London

    Pedler M & Boutall J (1992) Action Learning forchange. A Resource Book for Managersand other Professionals. NHS TrainingDirectorate

    Royal College of Nursing (2002) Summary evaluationreport for Phase 2 of the RCN Clinical LeadershipProgramme


    184 Nurse Education in Practice (2003) 3, 183184 c 2003 Published by Elsevier Ltd.