Action Learning Sets

I really enjoy facilitating action learning sets with the Institute of leadership as part of academic programmes. At the Institute of Leadership Action Learning Sets (ALS) are used for management and leadership development within the 2nd year of the Masters programmes. This is my first time facilitating the sets and they are proving to be a fantastic way for students to develop as leaders as they work through problems identified in practice and begin to put solutions in place to manifest change. The ALS provides a structured and analytical means to solve work practice problems for students while they simultaneously work towards their academic dissertations.


The mantra of action learning is “no learning without action, no action without learning” so the students are learning about leadership skills and processes of implementing changes in an applied way that is academically accredited.

Action learning sets meet every few weeks to provide a forum for students to ask questions about one another’s change projects. In the interim in the workplace the students apply the learning to the problem they are trying to solve in practice and then the action learning set with peer students gives the opportunity to pose tough questions which helps provoke thinking about solutions to problems as they progress.

The atmosphere of the ALS is an open trusting environment, where members feel safe is raising issues and question each other in honest ways. The open positive and constructive relationships are very important foundation for the ALS. Action learning uses social constructivist and social learning strategies so that students learn with and from each other. Often this mode of learning can be different for students returning to education, as the traditional idea of education is that learning happens through instruction and delivery rather than students building knowledge with each other. However in the ALS students really come to value the experience of their peers and the shared collaborative learning that happens in the ALS community of practice.

David Coughlan describes Action Learning as a radical pedagogy for management learning. This video from Pauline Joyce and David Coughlan explains more about the benefits and uses of action learning.

If you are interested in hearing more about action learning, a Leadership Symposium will take place on Saturday 1 March 2014 at NUI Maynooth , where you can hear about change projects from students from RCSI and NUI Maynooth.


About Muireann O'Keeffe

I am an educational developer currently working at DCU. I have a passion for researching and evaluating technology that can support and enhance learning. In the past I have taught on Masters programmes (Msc Applied elearning & Postgraduate Diploma in Third level Learning and Teaching) as well as Leadership development programmes.
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