Module 1: planning for learning at work: learner's workbook

4.3 Action planning

Page last updated: 2004

Action planning is a form of learning. It is a method for identifying needs, establishing goals and developing strategies to reach those goals. During implementation of the strategies you monitor, and if necessary modify the plan and take time to explore and reflect on what you are doing and why.

Key purposes
The learning action plan
Developing your learning action plan

Key purposes

Action planning serves several key purposes:
  1. It takes a cyclical view of learning (plan-act-review) and requires the application of critical reflection and selfassessment in the management of change and self-renewal.

  2. It aims to develop self-motivated learners who are proactive in their learning and utilise skills in analysis (of self, workplace and external forces), problem solving, communication and research.

  3. It is the key to continuous improvement. It can be used to address new learning needs or to consolidate the transfer of your learning from a formal training program into your everyday workplace.
It is important to acknowledge the problems you can face in bridging the gap between the training environment and the workplace. For example, how will you transfer your learning from this program back into your everyday practice in the workplace? How will you get support and practice in motivational interviewing skills learned in a training program if you don't often get the chance to practise these skills in your workplace?

You will recall that we identified a number of helping and hindering factors to our learning in the Force Field Analysis (Topic 3.4). So, how can we anticipate and plan for these challenges in transferring our skills back in the workplace? Action planning, the process of preparing an individual action plan at the end of a training workshop or program, can assist in promoting this transfer of learning.

Let's now look at the development of a learning action plan.Top of page

The learning action plan

A learning plan is a detailed statement prepared by the learner, sometimes with the support of a mentor. It is developed after learning needs have been diagnosed and most commonly includes details about what will be learned, how it will be learned, by when, what criteria will be used to evaluate the learning and how the learning will be validated.

Let's look at a sample learning action plan and consider each of the key components:
  • Goals - What do I want to learn?
  • Strategies - How am I going to learn?
  • Resources - What resources will I use?
  • Evidence guide - How will I know learning has occurred?
  • Review date
  • Review comments

Task - writing exercise

Question - Spend a few minutes thinking about developing a Learning Action Plan. What do you see as potential advantages? What do you see as potential difficulties?

Firstly, let's think about the benefits of the process. You probably had some of the following thoughts:
  • It is a highly visible way to identify my needs and track my progress
  • It makes me really think about what I am doing
  • I can focus on the issues that are of concern or interest to me as an individual
  • It provides a measurable way to record and celebrate learning achievements
  • It encourages me to be self-managing and self-directing
  • I can be more proactive in my learning, to gain control over my own learning
  • It increases my autonomy as a learner and this in turn can increase my motivation.
Question - What are some of the challenges you may encounter in developing and implementing a learning plan?
  • Developing the plan can be time consuming
  • It can be challenging when we're used to being directed in our learning by supervisors, trainers etc
  • It can be difficult to establish clear and detailed assessment criteria
We'll now work through each of the components of the learning action plan. Remember that, as part of your formal assessment, you will be required to develop such a plan so take advantage of the activities you will undertake to contribute to your plan.Top of page

Developing your learning action plan

Establishing your learning goals

Your first task is to develop a number of learning goals. Initially, no more than three or four goals should be chosen. If too many goals are formulated, the learning plan can become an overwhelming and unwieldy document that is difficult to use.

Goals should be prioritised in accordance with your current position and your identified learning needs. Goals must be SMART
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Action-oriented
R - Realistic
T - Time-targeted

Specific means detailed, particular or focused. A goal is specific when everyone knows exactly what is to be achieved and accomplished.

Measurable goals are quantifiable. A measurable goal provides a standard for comparison, the means to an end, a specific result. It is limiting.

Action-oriented means that the goals indicate an activity, a performance, an operation or something that produces results.

Realistic goals are practical, achievable and possible.

Time-targeted goals have a deadline.Top of page

The elements of a goal are:
  • An accomplishment to be achieved
  • A measurable outcome
  • A specific date and time to accomplish the goal.
The following formula can be a helpful way of thinking about goal development:
  • Verb - Action word. e.g. To reduce
  • What - Describe the function. e.g. departmental costs
  • Why - End product. e.g. by 5%
  • When - Date. e.g. by the year end
e.g. To reduce departmental costs by 5% by the year end

In this way, goals are quantifiable and there is accountability for the results. Examples of verbs specifying goals includes:
  • define
  • prepare
  • identify
  • demonstrate
  • interpret
  • apply
  • explain
  • differentiate
Avoid words such as:
  • know
  • learn
  • understand
  • appreciate
  • be aware of
Always try to describe the outcome, not the process: e.g. 'applies the principle' rather than 'gains knowledge of the principle'

Let's have some practice at this.Top of page

Task - writing exercise

Develop a minimum of three learning goals. Undertake this exercise with a colleague. (Refer to the exercise you undertook in Topic 4.2 analysing your skills, strengths and weaknesses.)

How did that go? Do your goals comply with the SMART requirements mentioned above? Examples of possible goals are:
  • Interpret and apply the relevant sections of education legislation to a parent regarding a child with special needs
  • Identify the advantages and disadvantages of a proposed staff training program
  • Demonstrate knowledge of group roles and identify these roles.

Strategies and resources

The learning activities and resources required to achieve your learning goals are now developed. The strategies outline the steps that will be taken to reach the goal as well as the methods used.

You explored a number of potential learning resources and strategies in Topic 2 and it will be useful to refer to these. It is also useful to consider the learning cycle and your preferred learning styles – are there styles that you would like to strengthen and what strategies would assist you?

Some verbs relating to strategies are:
  • interview
  • research
  • observe
  • record
  • evaluate
  • analyse
  • collate
  • write
  • attend
  • tape/video record
  • role play
  • participate
You also need to identify the resources that you intend to use to support your strategies. This may involve information resources such as books, journals and the World Wide Web. It may also involve key individuals or organisations.

Example:
  • Accompany a legal representative to a hearing (strategy)
  • Review three current academic articles (strategy and resource)Top of page

Evidence

Your goals and strategies should be assessable by a variety of means. Again, these must be as specific and concrete as possible. Use criteria that are observable whenever you can. This will create more objectivity when it comes to assessing whether your learning goals have been met.

Example:
  • Observation by mentor
  • Self-assessment against performance indicators
  • Peer feedback.
It can take a long time to conceptualise your goals in a sufficiently specific and concrete manner. Thinking broadly initially has advantages; being too specific too quickly can result in narrow goals that may lead you to overlook other learning opportunities.

It is important to set goals that are meaningful to you and that are concerned with an area that you are really interested in and are motivated to learn more about. Even though the learning action plan is the major assessment, it should not become too rigid or inhibit you from spontaneous action and risk-taking. Unforeseen learning opportunities can pop up suddenly and these can be incorporated into the learning plan.

Some helpful hints

As you shift into self-directed mode, the process can initially be uncomfortable and confusing as it involves a significant change in roles, values and assumptions. It is helpful, particularly in the early stages, to meet and discuss these feelings with your colleagues who will often be experiencing similar feelings. Writing a learning journal in parallel with the learning plan can also help validate the process.

After you have completed the first draft of your plan, you will find it useful to review it with two or three colleagues, supervisors, or other expert resource people to obtain their reaction and suggestions.

The following questions will optimise the feedback you receive:
  • Are the learning goals clear, understandable, and realistic? Do they describe what you propose to learn?
  • Can they think of other goals you might consider?
  • Do the learning strategies and resources seem reasonable, appropriate, and efficient?
  • Are there other resources and strategies you might consider?
  • Does the evidence seem relevant to the various goals, and would it convince them?
  • Can they suggest other evidence you might consider?Top of page

Personal review

Task

  1. Develop a learning action plan (This will need to be approved by your module facilitator/coordinator prior to embarking on Step 2. Refer to the following: mind map, force field analysis form and an example plan (see the learning action plan above).
  2. Implement your learning plan according to requirements detailed by the module facilitator.