The Learning Set - A powerful and much abused development tool


It is well known that 80% of effective learning takes place outside of formal training courses and our work on self-directed learning confirms this. Yet recent research indicates that one of its key processes - the Learning Set, is often much abused. When the original concept is watered down, under the guise of a more "pragmatic approach", it can be a complete waste of everyone's time!

So, summarised below are the "best practice" elements that will ensure a worthwhile investment.

1. Basics

A 'set' usually comprises 4 to 6 members, each with a Personal Development Plan and a facilitator who acts as their 'set adviser'.
  • The management of the set is vested in all the members of the set. Each set decides its own way of working, including: how often, where/when and for how long it meets.
  • The key functions required of the set members include:
    • Sharing one's own learning and development with other set members.
    • Helping each other to achieve Personal Development Plans.
    • Challenging members who are not fully participating and supporting those taking risks.
2. Working in a Set

Learning Set members have two responsibilities:

Making the most of their own time slot in achieving their development objective, which means:
  • Being clear about what they want from the set meeting.
  • Continuously reviewing the responses they are getting and what more is needed.
  • Critically reviewing how they handled their time slot in the meeting.
  • Clarifying the next steps required, in relation to other members' responses.
Contributing fully to other member's time slots, so that they have the best possible opportunity to achieve their development objective:
  • Understanding fully what members have committed to doing for the meeting.
  • Clarifying before the meeting the feedback members are seeking.
  • Considering how the feedback they give to members will help them.
3. The Role of a "set adviser"

Ordinary set member: The set adviser can behave just as any other set member. He/she can give information and ideas, ask questions, make comments, propose courses of action, etc.

Not as ordinary set member: The set adviser may do things that no one else is doing. For instance if no one confronts an issue that seems obvious to the set adviser, she/he may be the one to take it up within the set if no one else is prepared to.

Process Consultant: This term means that the set adviser may act in order to help the set with the process by which it does things. This kind of activity is not concerned directly with the tasks that people are carrying out, but rather focuses on the means by which the set is operating.


At Wadenhoe we understand the power of Learning Sets. Indeed, in some organisations where we have worked, they are ranked higher than both Mentoring and Coaching, as an effective means of personal development. So, in this brief article we have set out some of the basic concepts which we will never compromise on.

To find out more, call 01865 339558 or email Sue Bell at:

Ray Atkinson
Managing Director

The Wadenhoe Consultancy Ltd

Prama House
267 Banbury Road

Phone: 01865 339558
Mobile: 07899 796993
Fax: 01865 339301

Registered in England No: 6717860

©2013 The Wadenhoe Consultancy Ltd