Many claims have been made over the years for the superiority of action learning (AL). One of the most significant is that it provides a model of the learning organization. Given the importance of an organizational learning climate that can result in the acquisition of strategically valuable knowledge and insights, critically examines concepts of AL and the learning organization in the literature; and explores some of the issues thus identified by reference to AL in a management development programme for clinical directors working in the National Health Service. Conclusions underline the poorly tested theoretical and empirical base of both AL and of the learning organization and demonstrate the need for more rigorous evaluation of the practice of AL. Suggests that although there is substance to the claim that AL models the learning organization, its learning processes are unlikely in most situations to produce challenges to the dominant managerial logic of the organization. AL appears to have the potential, however, to develop strategic awareness and thinking even in turbulent environmental conditions, with particular value for managers in middle‐level strategic roles. It may also have a significant “sleeper effect”, linked to ongoing organizational context and only manifest over the longer term.
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