Action Learning Pioneer: Reg Revans

I was relistening to a Video of Neil Rackham – recorded in 2020 – and decided to finally follow up on some of the people he referenced. Neil said – at about the 19-minute mark:

“… Rich Revans invented a thing in the late 1930s called action learning he said you learn it by doing it, you put people on the job, you don’t simulate, you make them do it and then you give them coaching…”


Action learning pioneer

Original management thinker Reg Revans (14 May 1907 – 8 January 2003) developed the action learning concept in the 1940s). His extraordinary 96 years encompassed many successful achievements from competing in the Olympics, working as an astrophysicist, educational administrator and university professor to the culmination of his career as an international management consultant.

Revans is probably best known for pioneering a new process for management development which he called “action learning”. Recreating his early experiences of the benefits of a scientific research laboratory where colleagues share and compare problems, ideas and solutions, he transferred these “action learning” techniques to management development programmes for the National Coal Board. Enabling managers to learn from each other’s best practice he put them into groups which he called action learning sets. Here they could gain support and confidence from peers and introduce new ways of working. He was able to demonstrate that action learning was successful by measuring coal pit productivity.

Revans was convinced that for an organisation to survive its rate of learning must be at least equal to the rate of change in its external environment – this became known as Revans’ Law.

The action learning process has developed over the last sixty years as a method for individual and organisational development. As a process action learning can be challenging and informative. Within organisations Reg Revans described it as “the upward communication of doubt” – an opportunity for individuals to engage in learning and identify action which could make a positive difference to the organisation’s effectiveness. For example, he was one of the first to introduce to the National Health Service the idea that nurses, doctors and administrators needed to listen to and understand each other – and action learning groups offer the opportunity.

Video – 3:25 minutes in length.

For the rest of this page – please go here.


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