1.5 Action Learning Set


There is no picture for this pattern.


Based on the Ultraversity Project, this collection of patterns identifies the key innovations developed to teach an undergraduate programme of some 300 student researchers, supported entirely online and having collaboration between learners as a central component.

The Essence of the Problem

How to generate high quality collaboration and ‘deep learning’ based on constructive critical feedback in communities.  Two issues around that are the development of trust and confidence between learners and the challenge of individual’s managing the complexity of conversations between many participants.

The Problem in Detail

Critically reflective peer feedback is an essential component of this model for inquiry-based, work-focused, online supported learning.  Feedback from student reserachers with different expertise and experience extends the range of critical perspectives and stimulates reflection and debate in the exploration of problems and identification of creative solutions to problems.  A significant proportion of students initially approach communicating in larger community areas tentatively as this can be perceived as a ‘risky’ social activity particularly so between people who have never met physically and are newly aquainted online.  Peer review in large online communities can also generate a large amount of complexity with many messages requiring some form of ‘attenuation’ to that the demands placed upon the learner to read and respond in a thoughtful way are manageable.

Nadine’s cohort 47 students have been asked to consider the purpose of action learning sets; she reflects on how student researchers could have meaningful conversations critically reviewing their draft learning contracts. She considers the level of message generation if all of the students were sharing their individual learning contracts and providing feedback in one community space; how would she read through all of the messages; would she feel confident providing peer review in front of such a large audience ? She realises the volume of messages would be overwhelming, provision of critical feedback would inevitably be very selective; there would be no guarantee that she would receive any feedback herself.

The Solution

Identify groups of no more than 5 student researchers to work together on agreed activities to avoid the potentially overwhelming task of having to read large volumes of contributions and generate critical friendships.  The members should be contracted to support each other for a defined minimum level of commitment that should include offering as well as receiving critically constructive feedback on selected aspects.   This activity should initially be supported by someone with expertise in the process and so able to model the behaviour required as well as explaining the process and why it is valuable.  Significant parts of conversations should be shared in the wider community spaces, but the members of the learning set should decide on the level of privacy of their conversations.

In providing critically friendly support student researchers should:
– identify strong aspects of work
– suggest supplementary componants
– suggest alternative approaches based on experience
– identify inconsistencies
– challenge unfounded assumptions
– promote respect and friendship

Reflections on use

Many student researchers report that this is one of most beneficial aspects of their learning with developing strong friendships and deep levels of trust.  A wide range approaches to establishing learning sets from self-selection through to allocation by learning facilitators have been tried and have all worked well.  However, there can be issues around inclusivity if friendship groups are the basis for learning sets and on occasions the group dynamics of particular sets have lead to some levels of conflict that have required interventions to re-organise the sets.

Related patterns

1.1 Organise learning places
1.2 Team Teaching
1.3 Exhibition for Dissertation
1.4 Workplace advocate
1.5 Action Learning Set
1.6 Patchwork ‘Media’
1.7 Personalised Learning Contract
1.8 The ‘Hotseat’ expert guest
1.9 Nurture Online Community of Inquiry


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