The Practice of Action-Based Learning

"Action Learning is based on the premise that there is no learning without action and no sober and deliberate action without learning." Pedler, 1991

The Ross School of Business has been a pioneer in the use of action learning particularly in its MAP program. In MAP, teams of first year MBAs are engaged in real business situations where there are “real stakes” and for which they are held accountable.

Action learning follows a continuous cycle of observation and analysis, conceptualization and hypothesis forming, and experimentation. This action learning cycle (see Diagram 1) is bounded by continuous reflection with conclusions being adjusted as new learnings are uncovered. It strives to blend theory and action. The theory makes sense as it is applied to practice, but the practice makes sense only through reflection as enhanced by theory. Action learning programs like MAP, develop students with the ability to think independently, function without sufficient data, change their mind in mid-stream, negotiate, and continually reflect and inquire. Developing this ability for reflective inquiry is a key differentiator between action learning and classroom teaching.


Diagram 1 – Action Learning Cycle

n MAP, student teams are not presented with a well-defined problem, and then asked to choose from several possible solutions. Rather, it leaves the sense-making phase to students thus affording them the opportunity to develop both problem-solving and opportunity sensing skills. This problem definition, project scoping, and opportunity sensing are vital phases of the MAP experience. The critical skills developed through action learning are much broader in contrast to those developed through case studies.