on 19 November 2013
A useful and thorough book. Goes from Revans and the roots of action learning as a movement to the modern conceptualisation as a tool to explore and generate new knowledge. The authors acknowledge that the true strengths of action learning (and action research) are more than the tool: "whilst action learning is a simple enough idea, it is not always so simple to put into practice." (p.35)
The authors have written a book that is engaging, inspiring and practical - a book to make you think also about learning relationships as constructionist practice; which they put forth as the correct approach and warn against action learning for power, influence and dominance. It is practical enough to give examples of really difficult and "wicked" puzzles and problems, cases where there are no right or wrong solutions but rather a spectrum of possible scenarios.
To really capture the key (pragmatic) idea that solutions and understanding emerge through heuristics, collaboration and creativity, induction rather than deduction, it is probably a good idea to start with Chapter 5, which discusses action learning in an organisational development context. Reverting to the original thinking and reading the whole book then makes all the more sense.
on 22 August 2013
Pedler and Abbot counter the trend in recent years for Action Learning (AL) to be seen solely as a small group method which brings individuals together for their own personal development, by taking us back to Revans' original and radical vision for AL as a way of improving human systems of organising and working together. While the authors provide a very useful chapter on facilitating an Action Learning Set, this is framed by chapters on the other critical roles falling to an AL Advisor: "accoucheur" - advocacy of AL and securing sponsorship for it; and organisation developer - brokering the networks and channels through which to disseminate the learning of the AL Sets into the wider organisation. This conception of AL as comprising active sponsorship; groups of people learning together without the interference of experts and "taking meaningful action for the sake of friendship"; in order to develop the whole work system, reminds us of how central Revans' thinking is within the idea of a learning organisation.
The breadth and depth of the AL Advisor role come from Revans' humanistic ambitions for AL and in this regard the authors make brief but illuminating references to his contact with Quakerism and Buddhism. They also acknowledge how this purpose for AL of doing good in the world has taken a more deeply radical turn through the introduction of Critical Social Theory into AL practice, devoting a chapter to this development. Though this may smack of the invasion of experts, something which Revans was vociferously against, it does take the challenging implicit in AL of espoused theories a logical step further, through its deliberate questioning of existing organisational structures and associated power relations. Pedlar and Abbot square this particular circle with a chapter on AL as a way of working, reprising Revans' key values for AL and offering their own observations on leadership, the creation of knowledge communities and network organising.
Each chapter ends, as you might expect given the reflective element within AL, with prompts for the reader to reflect on and capture their thoughts on what has gone before, culminating in a final chapter on developing your practice as an AL Advisor. This last further embeds the notion of AL as a force for good in the world, with the authors' Knowing-Doing-Being framework for reflective practice.
Pedlar and Abbots' experience and firm grasp of their subject come through strongly in the clarity, succinctness and ease with which they cover a subject whose origins and essence have perhaps slipped out of view in the recent past. While larger organisations take a more individualistic turn by focussing ever increasingly on the development of elite talent, and the concept of a learning organisation becomes more a matter of glib rhetoric than real aspiration, this practical and insightful book proclaims anew the possibility of learning and acting together.