Learning theoretical concepts is important—it provides the learner with a strong understanding of the ideas that underlie principles and can help them to grasp even more complex issues.
But theory goes hand in hand with practice, and learners also need to know how to apply what they are learning. Sadly, this is an area where some digital learning falls short and with a lack of application, organisations and learners might be frustrated with their progress. Instead, learning designers need to guide learners to apply their new knowledge and that’s where action learning tasks can be a big help.
What is an action learning task?
First, consider the definition of action learning. It is an experiential learning style that asks learners to implement their learning and then reflect on this to aid knowledge transfer.
Action learning tasks build on this, centring on real world problems and practical issues that will build useful skills. They will guide users to consider their new learning and focus on applying it in their daily life.
They can involve a great variety of activities, like:
- ‘How’ and ‘why’ questions
- Group and individual development
- Sharing ideas and questions
- Putting solutions/strategies into action
Let’s first take a look at the pros and cons of using action learning tasks.
Pros of Action Learning Tasks
There can be a lot of benefits to using action learning tasks and they include:
- Tying learning to workplace outcomes
- Providing solutions to urgent problems
- Improving organisational projects
- Encouraging engagement, involvement and performance
- Establishing effective leadership programs
- Encouraging learning within the organisation
- Encouraging more strategic goal setting
Cons of Action Learning Tasks
Even when done well, using action learning does have its difficulties. These can include that it:
- Takes a lot of time to organise and may impact on your roll-out
- Demands long-term discipline from learners
- Can discourage innovation if one team member dominates the group
- Requires long-term commitment which can be overwhelming
But notice how most of these drawbacks have to do with long-term efforts? It’s hard to put in that kind of work for a long time, but long-term effort usually also results in long-lasting benefits. Keep that in mind.
Designing Effective Action Learning Tasks
Like any tool, action learning tasks need to be used appropriately to be effective. This is especially important given the amount of time and dedication needed to implement action learning in a business.
Action learning tasks can be made for individuals, small groups or large groups. Here are some quick ideas for making effective tasks for each of those categories.
1. Individual Tasks
- Individual reflections - these can either be private or eventually shared among groups
- Post-it walls - give the learners a prompt to generate ideas they will stick on the post-it wall
2. Small Group Tasks
- Quescussions - these are discussions that only involve questions
- Social annotation of a text - give the group a text to analyse and discuss together
3. Large Group Tasks
- Fishbowl - a small group performs an activity or discussion while the others observe them
- Index card pass - each learner writes a question on a card, then the cards are passed around. They then split into smaller groups, read out their cards and pick one to discuss together
Executing Effective Action Learning Tasks
Using these activities can be a great way to make your action learning more effective but you need to take the time to prepare. Make sure you know how to execute the activities, and to then reflect on the results once they have been completed.
Here’s a quick questionnaire you can use to make sure you’re using these learning tasks as best you can.
- What is the learning goal of this task?
- Do I have all the resources to complete it?
- What will be done in the task? By whom and when?
- What criteria am I assessing the learners against?
- What constraints are the learners working under?
- What does success in this task look like?
- How do I ensure the learners are on track or check if they need support?
- How do I ensure that the learners are actually participating?
- How do I ensure that those involved see the value in what they are doing?
- How do I ensure that learning occurs throughout the activity, and not only at the end?
In sum, to make sure your action learning tasks are as effective as possible, it’s best to check what kinds of tasks you are using in your team, and ask yourself questions regarding your preparation, execution and reflection of the tasks. All of this brings you closer to making tasks that will challenge your learners to develop lasting skills that will help them practically in the real world.