Effective Learners in Action Learning Sets

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Before the beginning it is very essential to talk very briefly about the concept of Action Learning. Basically Action Learning is a method of gaining Experiential Learning. If we look at theoret1ical perspective, Action Learning dates back to the work of Reg Revans, when he was the director of education at the National Coal Board in the UK in the 1940s. (Johnson, C., Spicer, D. P (2006)). He recognized that colliery managers who came across complex organizational problems might better learn by sharing their concerns with each other. In his views sharing their problems with colleagues the managers would gain greater insights, inspirations, and motivation to cope with difficult and challenging situations. He thought that through this process managers would get a better idea and they are better informed

Reg Revans expressed his model of action learning through an equation L=P+Q, which means learning is programmed knowledge plus questioning insight (Zuber-Skerritt, O (2002)), which means that best learning can be achieved when it is driven by the power of inquiry (questioning) supported by access to the knowledge and experience of those who have come before and accessed through learning resources and expert tutors. Underpinning this approach is the principle that learning should be focussed on finding solutions to real world problems, with the impetus for learning coming from the learner and the development of the learner being as important as finding a solution to the problem.

It is also important to briefly summarise the article in order to make it convenient for the readers to understand the main objective of this study. In this article Alan Mumford identifies one of the most important weaknesses of current literature on action learning; the failure to provide a model of learning in sets. The author offers a method which tries to overcome these weaknesses. Alan Mumford explains his own positive and negative experience about the concept of action learning.

The research also specifies a number of key issues which are associated with the use of Action Learning Sets. These issues include; engaging attention to learning, Identifying individual learning styles, integrating the cycle and learning styles into action learning, and learning from experience. In some of these courses great emphasis is given on action learning, while in others although action learning seems fundamental objective but is relying upon a range of experiential learning in addition to set work and than finally conclude his study in which he suggests further research on the subject as the data available at the time of this research was limited.

Critique on the article

By making an in-depth analysis it can be seen that the abstract of the article conveys a brief summary of the whole study in very precise and understandable manners and has made it very easy for the readers to understand at first glance the information provided by the author. Similarly in his introductory part whatever is stated in the abstract is presented in detail with more explanations and clarifications, but the author did not define and explain the term action learning, due to which some readers might face difficulties in fully understanding the concept and they might lose their interest at first glance. Moreover the main purpose of the research is ambiguous, as the author did not clarify that what is the main point of conducting research on the subject matter and that what benefits it will bring to the academia and the readers.

Furthermore the author has used relevant secondary data relating to the subject matter but on very limited bases, as he has used only a few sources from previous studies conducted by other scholars on the subject of Action Learning. Likewise he did not clarify about primary data that has been gathered and we can not identify which research methods has been used by the researcher while gathering information for his research. Furthermore even though the author did not mention the aims and objectives of his research separately but from the theme of his study they can be easily identified.

Similarly the current study shows that the author has used both, primary and secondary research methods. He has justified the use of secondary data by proper referencing but it is not clear that how he has conducted primary research and there is no evidence to prove and justify the primary data used in his study. Furthermore his research does not clearly indicate that whether he has used qualitative or quantitative research method and that what mode has been applied in his survey i.e. whether questionnaires were distributed or interviews were conducted, and that whether such primary data was collected by using online services or that he has followed traditional means.

Moreover the article is well organized and the findings of the author contain detailed discussion in appropriate manners and are appropriately linked back with the aims and objectives of his research.

Furthermore the concluding part shows clear outcome of the research work and the author has clearly and precisely concluded his study and an emphasis is given on future research to be conducted in order to gather more systematic information on the subject matter because at that time the research was focused on the subject of action learning very narrowly.

And finally the bibliography of the research is presented in appropriate manners and the references are used constantly in Harvard system, and are very easy for the readers to locate any item in the bibliography without any difficulty or inconvenience.

Strengths and weaknesses of the article

After a thorough study and an in-depth analysis of the article the following are the main strengths and weaknesses which have been identified in this critique.

Strengths of the article

After a comprehensive analysis of the article the following are the main strengths that have been identified.

Article Structure

The structure of article is of vital importance to get popularity and attract readers of one's research work. As mentioned earlier, the overall structure of the article is logical and the research conducted by the author is well organized. Matters are described in very sample and understandable language. The events mentioned are in sequence and paragraphs are linked appropriately with each other. The author explains his concept with the help of diagram so that reader can easily identify and understand which writer wants to convey.

Author own learning experience

At the end of the article the author has mentioned his own personal learning experience which gives a clear idea to readers about Action Learning. He mentioned some of his own mistakes at the end of the article which are very useful for those people who are engaged in action learning set. Through his personal experience an ASL can easily identify that what action might an individual take to improve his/her contribution and what action might the group take to improve itself.

Identification of defects in peer assessment in Action Learning

The author has made a very good point in his research regarding peer group assessment adopted by different institutions in their programme of study, he states that this method will take a significant proportion of time which could otherwise be utilised by members in discussing more substantial issues about themselves and that what could be the advantages of this method and what kind of experience will it bring to the group members.

There are other preferred methods that can be used for Action Learning assessment i.e. learning and reflective logs leading through to personalise Action Planning. Tim Friesner and Mike Hart also support learning logs as a useful method of assessment of action learning. According to them learning logs are viewed firmly as an assessment method of action learning and can also be used as a research method. They state that logs are an increasingly popular tool that are frequently used combine with work placements, work-based learning or courses that are underpinned by an idea that action learning is an instructive approach for achieving best learning results. They are ideal for encouraging participants to reflect on learning, and its structure is different from traditional assessments such as essays and reports. However they are also a source of reflective data, for instance, if one has 10 learning logs from 10 students which contains learning record over a period of 10 weeks of work with 10 different companies, not only do you have 10 assessments, but also 10 case studies with very rich reflective data. From this perspective there is the potential to consider learning logs as not only an assessment but also as a research method.

Emphasis on using learning logs and diaries

Many action learning facilitators have found producing a log has been an essential part of their learning and an extremely useful tool in their development as a reflective practitioner. A good point that has been noted in the current article is that the author has given much importance and weight on using learning logs and diaries. He has provided comprehensive details on the trend of using learning logs among different institutions. Because in ALS certain members faced with the general proposition that they should have a learning review at each session and they might adopt it readily and easily but then be faced at their first meeting with fairly blank minds in terms of what they have actually learned. Thus the author suggests having a learning log and learning diary. Here author give the example of his own business school where each individual should keep a learning log during their action learning MBA with them as a part of assessed work

Concentrate on real problems

Author emphasize on the real problems solution. It is very essential for ASL to concentrate on real problems and issues to acquire possible goals. So the action learning set must review not only the problems and projects which are being tackled by the individual members, and how they are being tackled, but what they are learning from the process of undertaking these things. The proposal that there should be a formal learning review at each set meeting will often be adopted with clear recognition of its likely benefits in the early stages of an action learning programme. The problem tends to arise later, when the drive for discussion of "real problems" tends to overwhelm the total time available to the set. So it is very important not only that a set should agree to allocate some time for each of its meetings to a learning review, but that it establishes a self-imposed discipline for checking that it does actually set this time aside.

The use of electronic sets

Another good point noted in this research is that the author has stated about conducting electronic sets through the medium of electronic devices. But the question that has been raised that whether this approach will replace face-to-face set meetings in future. It could be argued that electronic set is very useful in distance learning and off campus courses but in the case of on campus studies it could be used as a supplementary tool and not a substitute. In support of this argument, according to Dickenson, M. et al online or Virtual Action Learning (VAL) emerges as a variety of action learning in its own right associated with its own strengths and weaknesses. In their research it has been revealed that the practitioners of the various approaches to VAL frequently emphasize diverse prospective advantages from this way of doing AL. Just as VAL should not necessarily be measured against face-to-face AL, so care needs to be taken in making supposition that one form of Action Learning is better than the other. There is a contradictory opinion on the subject that whether VAL is a substitute for face-to-face AL or whether it has advantages that may lead it to being preferred over face-to-face AL. they further suggest that in order to clarify the existing controversies the concept of VAL needs further research and exploration. Keevil, J. also strongly supports the modern concept of conducting Action Learning through VAL.

Weaknesses of the article

After an in-depth study of the current article the following are the main weaknesses identified by this critique.

No definition and explanation of the subject matter:

As mentioned earlier, the author did not define and explain the term action learning which is the core and integral part of conducting research on a given subject. It would be better if the author could briefly define and explain the term Action Learning so that the readers could easily understand what action learning means. By skipping this essential part the reader may lose interest in reading the article and may find it difficult to fully understand the concept and its importance.

No evidence to prove and justify the use of primary data

Another weakness that is identified in the current article is that author has conducted primary research in order to collect information regarding the subject matter but he did not provide any proof to justify the data used in his research. Similarly he did not clarify that what research method has been used in gathering information i.e. qualitative and quantitative research methods. Similarly it is also not clear that which mode of data collection is used e.g. questionnaires, interviews etc.

Ambiguity in clarifying the main aspiration of the research

Although this research has focused on Action Learning and has explained in detail the different action learning cycles and styles that use action learner in their curriculum, but it is not clear that what is the main potential in conducting research on this subject and what benefits can be achieved by readers from this study.

No strong arguments in justifying the key issues:

From his research the author has identified a number of key issues in Action Learning sets, relating to orientation of participants to Action Learning and sets; engaging attention to learning; identifying individual learning styles, real problems solving, using learning logs and diaries, and giving his own learning experience but there is no strong argument on part of the author to justify the existence of these issues. The weaknesses that exist in explaining these issues by the author are discussed below.

Hurdles in obtaining validation for Action Learning courses:

Another weak point that has been identified by this critique is that, in the author's point of view there exist obstacle in obtaining validation which are largely based on Action Learning and that such process can be discouraging. Here it would be more appropriate to say that instead of considering it as an obstacle, the process of obtaining validation is an institutional requirement in order to maintain quality education and quality assurance.

No clarification of the Issues in the size of ALS:

The author also point out the issue in size of the Action Learning set, but he did not clarify that if the set size is below the average level or exceeds the ideal number of participants than what will be the problem. He further says about resource problem in facilitating large groups but it is unclear that what kind of resource problem could be encountered and how such problem can be managed. According to Craig Johnson there are no hard and fast rules about the constitution of an action learning set. He states that a group of between four and six fellow learners plus a facilitator is considered optimal. The institute of Leadership and management follows the same structure, such as ALS should typically composed of four to six people, it must not decrease the minimum of four and the highest number should not be more than eight if it is unavoidable.  Otherwise ALS will be ineffective and therefore will not meet the requirements for using Action Learning on an ILM Leadership programme.

According to Institute of Leadership and Management Action Learning takes time, usually several months to a year and ideally is supported by the employing organization. For the purposes of leadership qualifications, a minimum period of six months is set, and a maximum of one year, to emphasis the time needed to develop leadership skills and also the need to have a limit to the time devoted to the programme.

The benefits and shortcomings of changing sets are not identified

The author has mentioned about changing sets that should the members of Action Learning set remain in the same set throughout the programme of study or they should be changed? He does not mention that is it necessary to change sets or to leave them unchanged? It would be more appropriate if the author could highlight the positive and negative aspects of both situations.

No resolution is proposed for issues in set assessment

Although the author has raised a very strong point regarding peer group assessment method that has been applied in assessing the work produced by individual set members that this method is more time consuming and associates less benefits, but he did not bring up any alternative method of assessment which could be less time consuming and more advantageous towards achieving best possible outcome e.g. learning and reflective logs etc.


In the article which is the subject matter of this critical analysis, the author has conducted a research on the subject of "effective learners in action learning sets". In his research the author has identified a number of personal experience of Action Furthermore the author has also identified a number of issues in his research, such as engaging attention to learning, identifying individual learning styles, integrating the cycle and learning styles into action learning orientation to action learning; the use of learning logs or diaries by different institutions as part of Action Learning programme; and personal learning experience.

The article has a number of strengths which worth considering, for instance  the author has identified defects in peer assessment in Action Learning that this method is more time consuming and carries less advantage. He has also identified new method of conducting Action Learning Sets through the medium of electronic device. The author has also emphasised on using learning logs and diaries in Action Learning Sets which is again a very important factor for assessing team performance.

The article also carries a number of weaknesses, such as the author did not define and explain the subject matter which is very important for clarification to the readers, and no evidence has been given to prove and justify the use of primary data which the author has used in his research. Similarly ambiguity exists in clarifying the main aspiration of the research and it is unclear to understand the main reason behind the author's intention of conducting research on this topic. Furthermore there are no strong arguments on part of the author to justify the key issues which have been identified in his research. Similarly the author has mentioned issues in the size of ALS but no clarification has been given.