I met with a friend earlier in the week to talk about setting some life goals. It’s a conversation we had had five years ago and then did nothing about, but this time I came prepared with the Eiffel Over Action Learning Template.

Action learning means learning through taking action and reflecting on the outcomes. It’s at the core of most of the training that I design and deliver. I think it’s important because I think understanding comes from trying things out in the real world and then seeing what happens.

I remember my friend and I wrote our original list of goals sitting on a train to London back from Bristol Swing Festival in 2014. They were things like get better at doing handstands and hula hooping. This is the kind of context in which I think a lot of life goals are conceived: in a comfy setting, dreaming of how great the future will be after the action has been taken. In this sort of situation you don’t really understand, in an experiential way, what the work involved really is. You can do anything.

But of course we didn’t do anything, at all, in fact. Enter the action learning approach.

Action learning approach to goal setting

This set of questions I’ve adapted from work I did while at Think Up with Søren Willert at the University of Aalborg as part of an EU Erasmus+ funded scheme to train academics in problem-based learning. They go like this:

  1. Purpose – What goal or aim do I want to achieve through my actions?
  2. Social involvement – Who will I need to engage with?
  3. Action required – What must I do (when, how) and how will it be different from what I normally do?
  4. Collecting evidence – How will I know if I’ve met my goal or aim?
  5. Personal challenge – how is this action challenging? What learning do I see to be gained?

These are the questions we should have been asking when sitting on that comfy train. I am sure that being specific in this way would have helped us at least take the first step towards meeting our goals

Reviewing the impact of our actions

The next stage in the process is to review what happened after taking action. This is where the learning happens. At this stage the questions to ask are

  1. What evidence have you collected and what does it show?
  2. Did anything happen that you weren’t expecting?
  3. Do you need to change the original aims or method?

This is the part we completely missed out, but this time we are prepared. I’ll report back on the impacts of our actions once we have completed our post-action review.

Got your own goals to work on?

…then download your own copy of the Constructivist Action Learning Template and use action learning to get there. And drop me a post here to let me know how you get on.

One the main outputs of the problem-based learning work that Søren and I did was this set of videos about problem-based learning , recorded in a sunny hotel lobby in Crete.
In Episode 15 of the Eiffel Over podcast Alexie interviews me about different training techniques we use at Constructivist, and we get into some detail about problem-based learning and action learning.
Thoughts on how reflective learning might start to feel more attractive to some engineers if treat is as being about performance
This is an example of a training course we are offering over at Constructivist that is based around an action learning approach. Here we are helping participants overcome the challenges they face in getting their organisations to respond effectively to the climate and biodiversity emergency. We do it by asking individuals to select specific challenges to work on and then to reflect on the impacts of their actions – action learning in action!