Action Learning and professional formation of youth and community work students

Julie Flett, Mary Tyler


This paper follows 3 cohorts of students 2012 -2015  and maps their perceptions of professional development using Action Learning sets as a pedagogical tool . It looks at learning immediately after the Sets have taken place and builds on this up to 3 years after graduating.  The research  found that Action Learning Sets as a pedagogical tool make a valuable contribution to professional formation of youth and community workers by enabling participants to:

  • Consolidate learning  from the course
  • Become more confident and assertive about their professionalization
  • Reflect together on practice as a learning community and learn about themselves within the group process  
  • Understand how and when to use appropriate questions to enable reflection by others
  • Understand different ways people perceive issues, their different thought processes
  • Critically understand the importance and benefits of opening up people's thinking/gaining new perspectives
  • Be open and willing to listen, best for developing relationships 
  • Learn to listen in order to understand others and in so doing developing self-knowledge and problem solving skills.
  • Practise some educator / facilitator skills 

Action Learning Sets outcomes appears especially important where they  helped students develop confidence in their professional identity and in their ability to challenge to achieve recognition and change. However some participants discussed how an organisational culture that is not based on critically reflecting or even discussing professional approaches has impacted negatively on them as developing youth work professionals, echoing Stark’s (2006) similar findings from research on the impact of Sets used with nurses and educators. Many students  commented that there was no supervision in the workplace and no mechanism for group reflective learning so individuals were left to self-reflect without the benefit of alternative perspectives which they had come to value as a result of taking part within the Sets. This implied  a desire on the graduates’ part for continuing professional development . Further research into  critically reflective practice using action learning sets in the workplace could be explored within organisations and any demand developed within HE programmes .




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