Reg Revans the founder of Action Learning stated that: “Subjects learn only of their own volition and never at the will of others. They are not taught by others, but learn "within themselves" largely by the reorganization or extension of what they already know”.

One of the key to effective Action Learning is asking the right question. The ‘right questions’ are simply those which, when asked of the right people at the right time, given the type of information needed. Revans believed that by  systematically questioning,  and being  enabled  to question,  one’s  own and  other  people’s understanding,  assumptions and  experience  of particular  issues  and problems, conditions  for  an  effective learning  experience  are created.

To help people in an Action Learning Set, primarily a questioning approach is used than offering advice because it is a fundamental advice that each person has the capacity to find their own solutions.

Normally, the purpose of asking a question is to obtain information for our self, the questioner.  However, in action learning the purpose is completely different.  It is to help someone else to:

·        think more deeply

·        explore new options and perspectives

·        Use reflection, in order to make better choices and decisions.

Later, Revans made this more precise in the opening chapter of his book (Revans, 1980) which describes the formula:


Where L is learning, P is programming and Q is questioning to create insight into what people see, hear or feel. Questioning is the foundation stone for the complete method.

Q uses,

·    Closed questions

o   Who

o   What

·    Open questions

o   Why

o   How

Types of Questions

Closed Questions 

Closed question involves a technique which does not allow the respondents to develop or explore further or limits them with a strict lists of answer choices to choose from. It’s mostly monosyllabic or could be in the form of a short phrase .For example; some closed questions can only be answered by “Yes” or “No”:

·        Do you like doing crossword puzzles?

·        Could you buy me a newspaper?

·        Where do you live?

·         Is that you final answer?

·         Can you rate the satisfaction from the service?

Closed questions should not be interpreted as simple question which anyone can answer quickly with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It could be tougher to make you think before responding. For example; ‘when two things are dependent on each other, does an increase in one always leads to an increase in the other?’


·        It can be used to give facts

·        Helps in keeping control of the conversation with the questioner

·        Opening up a conversation

·        Seeking yes to a big question

Open Questions

Open questions open up the recipient’s thinking and give them the opportunity to expand or explore. This gives them the freedom to discover new ideas, consider different possibilities and to decide on the course of action that is right for them.

What kinds of open question work best? Simple questions are often the most powerful. For example:

·        What do you want to achieve?

·        How will you reach/get there?

·        What could get in the way?

·        What should be the first step?

·        How was your high school experience like?

·        Why did you choose that answer?

Open ended questions are not always long. It could be short as well as open. We will often find that shorter questions have a much greater impact than longer ones. Most of us find it quite difficult to ask really short, succinct questions because it can feel abrupt or even rude. So when we are asking questions in action learning set, it is important to be aware of our tone of voice and body language. The aim is to ask challenging questions in a way which helps the other person.


·        To give opinion and feelings.

·        Think and reflect

·        Gives control of the conversation to the respondent

·        Follow up from closed question

·        Make people realize the depth of their current situation

·        Helps to know more about an individual

While every human being asks questions, it takes skill and intention to use them strategically and effectively. Skillful and frequent question asking begins with awareness as well as curiosity.

We ask questions in order to:

• Gather information

• Lay groundwork for answers and solutions

• Think critically, creatively, and strategically

• Learn and reflect (including critical reflection)

• Uncover and challenge assumptions

• Solve problems and make decisions

• Clarify and confirm listening

• Build and maintain relationships and collaboration

Benefits in Education

As students become more comfortable using the questioning technique, elicit discussions that encourage students to talk about why they made certain decisions, how they organized their thinking, and which parts of their thinking were more precise.

·        Helps students organize their thoughts as they analyze causes and effects

·        Provides opportunities for students to use evaluative thinking skills

·        Requires students to listen to other ideas, synthesize information, and take a position on an issue

·        Well designed questions are essential as it helps learners to retrieve information from memory

·        It’s a direct feedback for an individual to self