Friday, 1 April 2011

A is for Action learning: How to create lasting behaviour change

I’ve just returned from three days in the wilds of the Norfolk countryside for a team away trip. Cooped up in two beautiful barns there was space to reflect, time to take stock and an amazing group of individuals to learn from and connect with. I feel lucky and inspired as a result – and I’m sure the fresh sea air blew away many cobwebs that had been building up in the office this year.

So what did we learn?
We’re a team of instructional designers. We’re a team of Psychologists. At times, we pride ourselves on being a team of creative genii. But above all we’re a team of Learning architects who deliver business impact by changing the way people think. This week, we learnt a number of new tricks and techniques to help us change people’s behaviour; and the main focus was learning by doing. 

Well, the method and delivery style differs every time. The programmatic approach is always tailored to suit the business needs of the client we’re working with. But each time, we consider what behaviours need to shift and what the business impact would be when the change is successful. 

So, what was the buzz word this week?
Action learning. 

What does it mean?
Simply put, action learning is doing stuff and learning from what happens. Instead of focusing on theories, principles, models and tools, you get involved and learn from mistakes. Got a tricky issue? Just start to solve it, try your best, explore what happens and then learn from the experience to uncover what you could do differently next time to get even better results. 

How can you use the technique?
Whatever profession, industry or job you work in, if you need to change people’s behaviour then action learning can help. The focus is on individuals taking ownership for a problem, learning from their situations and planning how to do it differently in future. 

If you’re ever thinking about ‘training’ people or sharing knowledge through a traditional content-download approach, STOP.
Instead, think about: How could the group come to the learning by themselves? How could they use their initiative to find answers without you spelling it out? 

Whether you’re teaching people to write, sing, present or calculate complicated business sums, some of the best learning comes from being thrown in the deep end and attempting it yourself. 

Set people a challenge and support them when they need it. Then watch the magic happen. 

People only change when they can see the benefits. Or when it's in their own best interests to do so. To tap into this individual motivation, you need to get people experiencing the pain and gain for themselves. To deliver lasting change, the audience needs to be excited by the benefits of doing something differently from the way they've always known. 
Two words to remember at all times: CLARITY and SIMPLICITY. If you've got clarity about what you're offering and what needs to change, then the simplest journey is often the best. We can't be simple if we're unclear of the boundaries. And we can't be completely clear when the situation is complicated and messy. 

In summary, K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, Saviour) 


  1. Interesting stuff. I've just finished reading several books on leadership, managing conflict etc. and your post fit well with what I've read.
    Action learning is a big part of our education system.
    Thanks for a great post!

  2. That's a pretty neat concept! Thanks for the info!

  3. what an intresting take!

    hello from the a to z