By Jeroen Robbe
The Action Learning Cycle is an approach to learning which can strengthen the capacity for leaderful organizing.
The Action Learning Cycle offers a simple framework for building learning, healthy feedback and responsiveness into our personal and group or organizational lives. It is a simple framework within which a wide range of tools and approaches can be applied, helping to bring more awareness and choice to our actions. Applying the Action Learning Cycle empowers us to build ongoing learning into our work and lives. Crucial to this is the need to create the opportunity to deepen our understanding and experience, to evaluate and redesign our approach based on our learning.
How this tool supports leaderful movements
For many people involved in practices of social transformation, the pressures to act can feel enormous. In our attempts to respond to the problems we perceive, action follows action in a quick cycle of succession. The space to reflect and evaluate is given secondary importance against the urgency and desperation of the demands we are responding to. We act and act again, and consequently we often reproduce strategies and tactics which are no longer reflecting the current reality we should address or which at least could become more effective.
If we are to generate healthy leaderful movements we need to grow our capacity to break out of reactive cycles, we need to find the time to stop, reflect and learn from experience.
This tool gives us language and a framework for this. Using the tool consciously within our groups, supports us to strengthen our “ongoing learning competency”. Once a group is familiar with the model, a reminder every now and then can be a helpful invitation to take a step back and to create the space and time for deeper reflection.
The creative spiral of the action learning cycle
- Consequences of Action
- Acknowledging depth and layers of experience
- A pause
- Creating a gap in cycle and space for the new
- Curiosity and receptivity
- Deepening awareness
- What happened?
- So what? What does it mean?
- Questioning and conceptualising (notice maps and tools we use)
- Applying new understanding
Telling, showing and doing are all ways of learning. Each has their place. Using an Action Learning Methodology incorporates them all, but places emphasis on learning from experience by supporting deep reflection, analysis, and testing.
In an activist education context we have found that additional emphasis needs to be put on reflection, in part to antidote the activist propensity towards action. It can be useful to think about how sessions and workshops can help people to move through the phases of the Action Learning Cycle.
We often start with reflection, taking experience to mean what people already bring with them. But when designing experiential learning exercises we’ll set up an activity to generate an experience to serve as the basis for reflection and then analysis.
When explaining the model to people these are things you might like to explain:
- The phase of reflection is not so much about thinking things through, as about cultivating a quality of awareness. Instead of being rushed it needs to be gently and patiently welcomed into being. It is not about trying to penetrate the meaning of our experience, and solve our problems, rather it is about cultivating a curious, receptive and attentive attitude.
- We often jump to analysis too quickly without reflection. If we skip reflection we will miss the opportunity to feel deeper into our experience and find awareness that isn’t based on world views that we already have and know.
- Too much reflection or analysis can lead to procrastination, and it’s a place where people with perfectionist tendencies can often get stalled.
It is when we apply and test out our learning that we discover its limitations, the deeper challenges it brings up, and the range of additional insights it offers. But to do so we need time to reflect on our experience, analyse what it means, and make new plans that we can test out in the next round of action-learning.
- Leaderful Organizing toolkit
- The Spiral Model: A Learning Framework
- The Art and Craft of Training Workshop Design
- Facilitating Group Learning: Strategies for Success with Diverse Learners – book by George Lakey
- Education for Changing Unions – book by Bev Burke, Jojo Geronimo, D’Arcy Martin, Barb Thomas, Carol Wall