I have been a member of an Action Learning Set for some time. Action learning is a powerful and effective way of learning. It is an educational process that brings people together to learn and work by tackling real issues and reflecting on their actions (Brockband & McGill, 2003, p2). Through this process, learners are able to acquire knowledge through actual actions and practice rather than the traditional class instructional method. Action learning is carried out in conjunction with others; thus, forming small groups which are referred to as action learning sets. I am a member of one such group at the university.
I will evaluate my own performance in relation to the target I have set for myself. My target was to achieve academic excellence at the university so as to be eloquent and professional on my area of specialization, which is health and social care. My performance in the action learning set, as far as I was concerned, was satisfactory. To begin with, I have graduated from a mere observer to an active contributor during the group sessions. At first, I would only sit and watch as other members of the group engaged each other on the issues of the day. I would listen to members as they debated and share ideas on various topics.
My group had various individuals acting in various capacities. There was a facilitator; a time keeper and the rest were contributors. I was among the last category. I initially found it difficult to contribute to the group discussions. I was also suffering from low self-esteem and I feared that people would scorn at my ideas, if I offered any. Consequently, I consigned myself to a mere observer for the first few weeks. Some members would look into my direction purposely, but I would avoid their eyes. On several occasions, the group leaders would try to get me talking, but that too would prove futile.
Nevertheless, deep inside me, I knew I had to do something about it, on account of my profession. I am studying health and social care, and I may well likely become a lecturer or college tutor in future. Now, this is a profession that requires eloquent public speaking skills, as well as a sharp and didactic mind. How was I going to develop such crucial and pertinent skills if I did not start by contributing to group discussions?
As a group and as an individual, there are various benefits that we as action learning set members stand to gain. To begin with, the set offers an ample opportunity for us members to develop individual reflective reasoning. Individual reflective reasoning is a crucial skill that will develop our minds. This will enable me to understand concepts better in class and, therefore, it will improve my academic performance. Secondly, the process empowers members with important skills that can be applied at the workplace. Skills such as reflective reasoning can be quite important at the workplace.
My group also focused on achieving skills that would benefit us as future managers. Research indicates that most managers spend more time performing activities or duties assigned to them compared to thinking. On the other hand, many management courses spend more time thinking than putting things into practice. Therefore, action learning suits most managers as it focuses on doing and reviewing things. It also provides managers with opportunities to tackle real challenges in their own workplace and learn from their experiences. Moreover, action learning helps them to improve their managerial performance and, in turn, improve their profits as well.
Nevertheless, there has been a tendency for members of the action learning set to become evangelical about it. This is mainly due to the proven effectiveness of this approach. Although a certain degree of evangelism may be inevitable at first, action learning should not be turned into a religion. What is important is the commitment that members invest into the process to ensure its continued success.
Suffice to say, action learning is one of the most effective management techniques that is suited to many managers. This is due to its ability to produce immediate results when sponsorship is needed through project work. The implication of this is that organizations begin to reap the fruits of action learning as soon as possible through increased effectiveness on the part of the organization’s managers. However, I recognized that action learning may benefit some managers while others may get nothing out of it. This is the moment when action learning should be shelved.
One thing that characterizes the action learning set is the support and challenges given by peers. This is because members present challenges or issues of concern. The set members then shoot constructive questions challenging or supporting the position held by the presenter. This initiates a vibrant debate on the issue brought forth. This is largely voluntary and as such, it is more effective than the traditional classroom instruction which may bear strongly on learners.
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Action learning sets also provide individuals with the chance to find creative ways of bringing about change. This is because to support or challenge the position put forward by a peer, you need to be well versed with the relevant knowledge on the subject matter.
In my group, I developed various skills from the action learning process. One such skill was listening. This is because I was playing the role of an observant, listening closely to what the others were saying and noting it down. There are three ways of listening. There is listening to the head, which is the thinking level. This kevel accommodates facts, thoughts, arguments and concepts as well as principles. This is the kind of listening that I am most familiar with
Then, there is listening to the heart. This is also referred to as the feeling level. This comprises of feelings, experiences, moods and emotions. Listening to feelings gives me important clues about the things that really matter. Furthermore, key issues may surface through strongly expressed or denied feelings. I often heard such through the tone of voices and facial expressions. They are sometimes louder than what is actually spoken.
The third type of listening that I have learnt is listening to the feet. This is located at the will level and it includes motivation, intentions, direction and energy among others. Things have a tendency to shift because a person’s will have changed direction. The ability to decipher one’s will or the will of a group of people is central to the success of the group or company. I learnt the importance of sensing what the other person wants, their intentions and why they tell me certain things can be the most challenging part of listening. But it is still important all the same.
In my group, another important skill I have acquired through action learning set is maintaining confidentiality and openness. This is a life skill that I will carry on to the workplace. Confidentiality is a very important aspect both at home and at school or the workplace. This is because the practice of confidentiality builds up trust among members of any given team, and this enables them to work together effectively and efficiently.
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Lack of confidentiality, on the other hand, is a recipe for the erosion of trust and belief among members of a group. The breach of trust is responsible for the breakdown of communication among members due to hidden suspicions. This will make a group fail to attain its goals.
Another crucial skill I have gathered through action learning is problem solving (Rimanoczy & Turner, 2008, p 43). During the process of action learning, members present issues for the others to debate and discuss upon. The issues may be in terms of real life problems and members rack their brains for all possible alternatives to the solution of the problem. This is also an important life skill as everyone expects to encounter problems in life in one form or another. This is because problems and challenges are part of life and whoever is able to manage them becomes successful.
Action learning also allows participants to learn from the problems of others. In the course of the discussions, members would raise issues facing other people or organizations out there. This would give us an opportunity to learn from the experiences of others, the problems and challenges they encounter and how they go about solving or tackling them.
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These are some of the skills that will come handy at the workplace. This is because they will go a long way in shaping the decisions I make in future. Most organizations will face one problem or another at a given time. As such, the problem solving skills acquired from the action learning set will go into play. Having analyzed and discussed about the experiences of other organizations, it will be easier to diagnose any problem facing my place of work.
At a personal level, problem solving skills also play a pivotal role. As people interact with each other, as they go through their life sequences, it is inevitable for them to experience problems. It would not be advisable for one to rely on others to handle problems and challenges on their behalf. One of my ambitions is to be self-reliant. Therefore, problem solvi9ng skills acquired at action learning sets will give me a head-start in life’s issues.
However, there are some issues of concern that I experienced in the action learning sets that need to be worked upon. One was poor listening skills exercised by some members. This was especially the case for controversial issues. During such times, there were some members who interrupt others in mid-sentence or mid speech. This is a very poor listening culture and it may lead to communication breakdown, or a deluge of emotions.
Then, there are those who cannot resist the temptations to impose their own values, advice, opinions and views on others. It helped me a great deal to realize that people come from different backgrounds and cultures, and also that everybody is entitled to their owns point of views. Establishing this common understanding sets the stage for an effective and beneficial session at the action learning set. At the beginning, I had the prejudices but against me since I was suffering from low self esteem. Some members misconstrued this to men lack of a personal stand and opinion. Consequently, they would embark on an arduous task of getting me into their way of thinking with complete disregard for my personal space.
In my group, I also observed that there was the problem of making too many assumptions. There are those, including myself, who imagined that the situations we have experiences are similar to what others have gone through. This would make us argue without actually stopping to consider whether we have brought everybody on board or at par with the subject matter.
Nevertheless, action learning has really improved my academic performance. I am now able to think and analyze ideas on my own, as well as presenting issues eloquently before others. The problem solving skills have gone a long way in enhancing my life on campus, where I have little contact with my parents, who usually show me the way forward out of any challenge that I face in life when at home.