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Action Learning – fast tracking to competitive edge


David Towler, Chief Executive and Principal, Cambridge Online Learning argues that the key to adding value must lie in training that enables candidates to hit the ground running with minimal disruption, to the working day, and puts forward Action Learning as an effective solution.

The CIPD’s latest survey ( Training and Development 2003 ) supports these sentiments. Concerns that time pressures affect managerial ability to transfer learning back to the workplace have coincided with a proliferation of on-the-job training and continued demand for effective training evaluation. It appears the business world is questioning the strength of traditional learning as workplace training continues to prove itself in tackling time restraints and aligning management practice with organisational goals – a priority outlined in previous CIPD research.

Unlike with traditional courses, the results of on-the-job training are immediate and evident. Approaches such as Action Learning see candidates incorporate assignments into their everyday work, giving employers immediate competitive edge via instant in-house ‘management consultancy’ from the outset.

Whether identifying duplication of effort and cost across an organisation or developing the ability to recognise and respond to HR issues, the advantages of this real life approach to business are great. COL candidate and Principal Manager for Arts and Entertainment at Calderdale Metropolitan Council, George Candler, provides a prime example of such benefits. Whilst recently completing an Information Management assignment he found that various divisions across his organisation were duplicating the show diary. By simply identifying the problem and working to centralise and network it to each department, he saved his employer valuable time and money.

Adoption of the Action Learning philosophy also provides the added dimension of broadened business knowledge and awareness of perspectives across the business spectrum. The joining of candidates in diverse discussion groups to challenge ideas, share experiences and reflect on actions enables public sector managers to develop insight and draw on private sector practice, and vice-versa - a capability that simply can’t be developed via traditional classroom based learning.

Although the answer to adding value is simple, the demand for Action Learning still outstrips supply. Whilst a recent People Management survey revealed some 67% of respondents anticipate using the approach more and more in the future, research amongst business schools suggests the concept is only being incorporated modestly into training as the market chooses to focuses on theory than practice.

Given that the present business climate is driven essentially by time, money and competitive advantage, the ball now lies in the court of training providers to listen and respond to business needs with the uptake of Action Learning. The solution is there for all to see and those who deliver are guaranteed a strong foothold in the future of management training whilst those who choose to ignore will no doubt fall by the wayside.


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