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Action Reflection Learning is a learning methodology originated in Sweden in the late 1970s, and refined by the MiL Institute in that country and by LIM, Leadership in International Management, in the USA. It brings together a number of disciplines, such as adult learning, action learning, behavioral and humanistic psychology, Gestalt theory, cybernetics, sociology, group dynamics and philosophy. Different theories and concepts from these heterogeneous disciplines are combined into 10 learning principles and 16 learning elements.


The Origins of ARL

In the late 1970s, a group of academics from the University of Lund, Sweden, began to question the approach and method used in management training. They formed a group with a number of managers, consultants and professionals in the HR arena working in Swedish organizations and created a movement protesting the current management development practices at the University of Lund. Out of this movement was created the MiL Institute.

At that time management training was focused on teaching concepts, techniques and theories, and the preferred method was lectures and classroom courses. As Lennart Rohlin, President of the MiL Institute explains it, “Our ambition was to put leadership (instead of merely management) and learning (instead of teaching) in the forefront"[1]. The group focused on what was taught to executives as well as on the best process to teach the new contents.

They observed that corporations needed leaders more than just managers to address the changing demands of their business context. They realized that the understanding of what it is like to work with people, not merely with processes, equipment and systems was missing from the development programs. The group reflected on what contents had to be learned, observing that it was more important to develop new behaviours and attitudes than teach facts and theories.

At the same time, they realized that developing new behaviors required that they review their values and assumptions underlying current leadership practices, assessing contradictions and addressing dilemmas: Is leadership based on authority or influence? Should we promote control or empowerment? Should majority rule or consensus be used for making decisions?

While identifying and analyzing the new competencies they thought should be learned, they realized that it required individuals to learn how to act differently, how to behave, to think differently, something for which the classical teaching model was simply inadequate. This avant-garde group came up with a different way to foster learning. They brought together groups of managers to work on real, organizationally significant projects, using the experience thus gained as the vehicles for developing new behaviours and mindsets. Attracted by this innovative approach, strategic partners like Ashridge Management College, London Business School, INSEAD and IMEDE (now IMD) joined MiL in the initiative.

The new model aimed at developing value-based leadership which transformed managers into strategic ‘actors’ (leaders) who could generate their own theories of leadership through individual and group reflection.

The "MiL Model" was based on the action learning approach developed by Reg Revans in the '40s, where a group of people meet periodically to solve problems related to work. Each individual brings his own problem and the group members ask questions that help the individual to find his own answers[2].

Differences between action learning and the MiL Model

The main differences between Revans’ approach to action learning and the ‘MiL Model’ in the ‘80s were:

1) the role of a project team advisor (later called “learning coach”), which Revans advised against;
2) the use of team projects rather than individual challenges; and
3) the duration of the sessions, which is more flexible in ARL designs.

The MiL Model evolved organically as practitioners responded to diverse needs and restrictions. In an experiential learning mode, MiL practitioners varied the number and duration of the sessions, the type of project selected, the role of the learning coach and the style of his/her interventions. By the mid '80's, this approach was called Action Reflection Learning.

ARL: A learning methodology

ARL evolved organically through the choices and savvy intuitions of practitioners, who informally exchanged their experiences with each other. It became a somewhat shared practice, which incorporated elements of design and intervention that the practitioners adopted because of their efficacy. In 2004, Rimanoczy researched and coded the ARL methodology, identifying 16 elements and 10 underlying principles.


The Sixteen Elements of ARL[3]

  1. Taking ownership for one’s learning
  2. Just in Time intervention
  3. Linking
  4. Balance Task/Learning
  5. Guided Reflection
  6. Feedback
  7. Unfamiliar Environments
  8. Exchange of Learnings
  9. Appreciative Approach
  10. Safe environments
  11. Holistic involvement of the individual
  12. Learning and Personality Styles
  13. Coaching one on one
  14. Sequenced Learning
  15. Learning coach
  16. Five System Levels

The Ten Learning Principles[3]

Principle # 1: Relevance
“Learning is optimal when the focus of the learning is owned by, relevant to, and important and timely for, the individual.”

Principle # 2 Tacit Knowledge
“Knowledge exists within individuals in implicit, often unaware forms; it is frequently under-or not fully utilized and can be accessed through guided introspection.”

Principle # 3: Reflection
“The process of being able to thoughtfully reflect upon experience is an essential part of the learning process, which can enable greater meaning and learning to be derived from a given situation”.

Principle # 4: Uncovering, adapting and building new maps and mental models
“The most significant learning occurs when individuals are able to shift the perspective by which they habitually view the world, leading to greater understanding (of the world and of the other), self-awareness and intelligent action.”

Principle # 5: Social Learning
“Social interaction generates learning”.

Principle # 6: Integration
“People are a combination of mind, body, feelings and emotions, and respond best when all aspects of their being are considered, engaged, and valued.”

Principle # 7: Self-Awareness
“Building self-awareness through helping people understand the relation between what they feel, think, and act, and their impact on others, is a crucial step to greater personal and professional competence.”

Principle # 8: Repetition and Reinforcement
“Practice brings mastery and positive reinforcement increases the assimilation.”

Principle # 9: Facilitated learning
“A specific role exists for an expert in teaching and learning methods and techniques which can help individuals and groups best learn.”

Principle # 10: Systemic understanding and practice
“We live in a complex, interconnected, co-created world, and, in order to better understand and tackle individual and organizational issues, we have to take into account the different systems and contexts which mutually influence one another and effect these issues.”


  1. ^ “Introducing MiL International Newsletter and reporting from the efmd Annual Conference 1994.” (1st ed.). Lund: MiL Concepts. 1996.  
  2. ^ Reginald W. Revans. (1982). Origins and Growth of Action Learning. Chartwell-Bratt. ISBN 0862380200.  
  3. ^ a b Isabel Rimanoczy & Ernie Turner. (2008). Action Reflection Learning: Solving real business problems by connecting learning with earning (1st ed.). Mountain View: Davies-Black Publishing. pp. xx. ISBN 0891062408.  
  • Sampieri, Collado, Lucio (2003). Metodologia de la Investigacion. Mexico, D.F.: McGraw-Hill Interamericana
  • Yorks, L. et al., “Transfer of Learning from an Action Reflection Learning Program”, Performance Improvement Quarterly, Vol. 11, no. 1 (1998): pp. 59-71.
  • O'Neil, J., Marsick, V.J., "Becoming critically reflective through action reflection learning", in Brooks, A., Watkins, K. (Eds), The Emerging Power of Action Inquiry Technologies, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, Vol. 63 (1994): pp. 17-30.
  • Bray, J. Collaborative inquiry in practice: action, reflection, and meaning making. Sage Publications, Inc. (1st ed.)(2000). pp. 42-44. ISBN 0761906479.
  • Lamm, S. “The Connection between Action Reflection Learning and Transformative Learning: An Awakening of Human Qualities in Leadership” (Ed.D. diss.), Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY. (2000).
  • Yorks, L. “Boundary Management in Action Reflection Learning Research: Taking the Role of a Sophisticated Barbarian”. Human Resource Development Quarterly, Vol. 7, no. 4 (1996): pp. 313-34.
  • Yorks, L., O’Neil, J. & Marsick, V. (2002). Action Reflection Learning and critical reflection approaches. In: Yury Boshyk (Ed.) Action Learning Worldwide: Experiences of leadership and organizational development. NY: Palgrave Macmillian, p. 19-29.
  • Pearson, R. (2002). Strategic Change Management at Merck Hong Kong: Building a high performing executive team using Action Reflection Learning. In: Yury Boshyk (Ed.) Action Learning Worldwide: Experiences of leadership and organizational development. NY: Palgrave Macmillian, p. 293-311.
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2000). Action Reflection Learning in Latin America. Action Learning News. IFAL. Sept. 2000, Vol. 19, No. 3., p. 3-4.
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2002). Action Reflection Learning in Latin America. In Boshyk, Y. (Ed.) Action Learning Worldwide. NY: Palgrave Macmillan. P. 152-162
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2002). Action Reflection Learning in Thailand: Defying Cultural Differences. In Sankaran, S. (Ed.) Action Learning and Action Research. Lismore: Southern Cross University Press. p. 229-235
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2007). Action Reflection Learning: A learning methodology based on common sense. Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 39, No. 1
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2007). Action Learning and Action Reflection Learning: Are they different? Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 39, No. 3 and 4
  • Rimanoczy, Isabel and Brown, Carole (2008). "Bringing Action Reflection Learning into action learning", Action Learning: Research and Practice,5:2,185—192
  • Dennis, C. et al., (1995) "Learning Your Way to a Global Organization", ASTD Case Studies: Creating the Learning Organization, Vol. 1

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