What is Action Learning?

In Action Learning, 'Sets’ of people meet regularly to explore real problems and decide on the action they wish to take to resolve them. To achieve this each Set will:

Describe the problem as they see it

  2. Receive contributions from others, often in the form of questions

  3. Reflect on discussion and decide what action to take

  4. Report back on what happened when they took action
  5. Reflect on the problem-solving process and how well it is working

How do Sets operate?

Each member of the Set is accountable to it for taking action and reporting progress. At the start of the Set, members establish a series of ground rules, which might include confidentiality, attendance and listening while others are speaking. 

The Set agrees how time will be used and, depending on Set size, meetings may be from half a day to one day duration. The lifetime of the Set can vary -  some Sets meet for a limited period, for example, once a month for three sessions whilst others meet for a year or more, depending on the type of work they are doing.

What is the theory of Action Learning?

The ‘cycle of learning’ describes how we learn as a continuous process of action and reflection. Learning is the product of knowledge (i.e. taught information) PLUS questioning and reflecting. This is sometimes expressed as: 

L (learning) = P (programmed knowledge) + Q (questions)

In Action Learning theory, taking action is crucial and real learning is achieved by doing something and then reflecting on the outcome. Set members are "partners in adversity", supporting and challenging one another to think - and to take action.

What does a Set facilitator do?

The facilitator models skills and techniques, such as insightful questioning, so that the Set can see how they work in practice. The facilitator may also point out aspects of the way the Set works together and encourage members to reflect on their own behaviours during meetings. 

What are the benefits of Action Learning?

Action Learning enables the participant to:

  • learn from successes - and failures
  • plan and make important changes
  • increase interpersonal skills
  • value their own skills and experience
  • understand and accept their own strengths and weaknesses

How are Action Learning Sets conducted?

Action Learning Sets provide a template for continued learning and reflection. Each Set is linked to an identified problem area / issue and an associated relevant training theme.  Participants of a specific Action Learning Set will have a shared understanding of the theme, but may have very different issues to explore within the theme.


Participants must:

  • Agree to commit to their own development and to achieve progress on their own and joint issues. This means being prepared to engage in the process
  • Be willing to learn from their own and others' activities
  • Be willing to offer their experience, prior knowledge and ideas to the Set as a whole
  • Have an ability to act as peer coaches and co-consultants to one another


  • Each session lasts no more than two hours
  • Each Set member, in turn, presents issues / contributes to an issue
  • Colleagues help the issue holder to explore their issue and the assumptions or barriers that surround it
  • Intelligent questioning and co-coaching methods are used, with the aim seeing issues from different perspectives
  • The group generates ideas and potential solutions
  • There is time to reflect on what has been learned about the issue and the process of learning

Facilitator role

The sessions will be facilitated by a Trainer/Consultant who has previously delivered training on the issue / subject to be discussed. this ensures that a level of expertise is provided (as well as consistency in terms of any involvement in previous training sessions).

The facilitator manages the Set time (so that everyone is enabled to participate) and pose questions based on their knowledge base, in order to facilitate learning and solutions. Depending on the subject, the trainer/consultant may be able to provide or signpost to good practice examples to assist learning and solve problems. 

The facilitators’ role is to encourage the process to work well, ensure that the reflective aspects of learning are emphasised, and enable individual and collective progress to be monitored. 

Sharing learning

The learning from the Sets is shared with the agency as a means of informing them of the current issues/challenges at practice level. This may act as a catalyst for further training, or development of policy and procedure.