Organisational development has become increasingly important as companies face a world of ^aEUR~generic uncertainty, (Peters, 1987), resulting in new problems and new challenges. Traditionally, firms have relied upon scientific methods to resolve these problems, but these have been criticised for failing to deliver realistic, understandable and timely solutions (Revans, 1998). As a result, ^aEUR~Action Research, has emerged; defined as ^aEUR~an inquiry into how human beings design and implement action in relation to one another, (Argy ris et al. , cited in De Loo, 2002; p 246). This program seeks to allow managers the ability to tackle problems which are ^aEUR~complex, non-routine and for which no standard solution exists, (De Loo, 2002; p 246). One technique which applies this approach is ^aEUR~action learning, .

Developed since the 1920, s, its progress is attributed to Revans (1980), who suggests that there is no clear definition of the concept; rather, its form can vary according to the situation at the time. However, the basic principle revolves around ^aEUR~real people tackling real problems in real time, (Revans, 1980; p 309). Revans, after studying the coal industry and NHS in the 1950 s and 1960 s, believed that people had the ability to solve their own problems. Action learning seeks to encourage individuals to solve problems (that have no obvious solution) without the need for advice from senior management or external consultants. The theoretical underpinnings of action learning lie in the work of Kolb (1984) and Revans (1980). Revans describes action learning as a social process by which managers and workers come together to form ^aEUR~sets, .

Pedler (1997; p 258) suggests that these sets represent ^aEUR~a collective search where everyone contributes their problems and insights to achieve a shared understanding, . In his work, Revans developed the formula: L = P + Q, i. e. learning equals ^aEUR~programmed knowledge, plus ^aEUR~questioning insight, . Revans states that ^aEUR~a surfeit of P inhibits Q, and that experts, loaded with P, are the greatest menace to adaptation to change by questioning, Q, (Revans, 1984; p 16). Beyond that, Revans, was keen to stress that ^aEUR~without learning there was no effective action and without action there was no effective learning, (Revans, 1984; p 54).

This idea was also developed by Kolb (1984), who suggested that learning was a cyclical process involving; concrete experience, observations and reflections, abstract concepts and generalisations, and testing implications of concepts in new situations. His principle premise was that ^aEUR~learning through reflection that questions one, s own insights and actions assumes that people can gain and create knowledge, as well as their own personal theory for a problem solving task, on the basis of their own concrete experience, (Zuber-Skerritt, 2002; p 118). Zuber-Skerritt (2002) suggests that action learning can offer a number of advantages for companies. He argues that in action learning there is a high degree of ^aEUR~personalisation, of problems and solutions and thus participants will have more of an incentive to ensure its success. This approach can be compared to techniques such as the hiring of external consultants or of senior management who impose their own solutions which may not generate such a desire to succeed among participants. Also, in action learning, the participants will both gain and produce knowledge.

When compare with the traditional form of learning i. e. ^aEUR~knowledge is transmitted and received in the form of information, theories and research findings, (Zuber-Skerritt, 2002; p 115), the individuals may only absorb limited amounts of information and they may find it difficult to relate this to the work setting. As Zuber-Skerritt (2002; p 116) states ^aEUR~action learners recognizes the possibility for learners to generate knowledge than merely absorbing passively the results of research produced by specialists, . Revans (1980) also notes that as a result of the individual personal growth, the organization will also benefit. As De Loo (2002; p 246) states, ^aEUR~an organization will advance, learn something new, or get a competitive edge over its competitors only when its members advance, learn something new, or find out something that members of rival firms do not know, .

By using action learning, the organization will benefit by creating a competitive advantage not through better technology or economies of scale, but through the development of the individuals within the organisation.