Action learning is being increasingly utilised as a strategy to underpin practitioner focused development and research projects in healthcare generally and nursing in particular. Whilst facilitators of and participants in action learning have a variety of resource materials to guide their practice and participation, there continue to be few systematic and/or evaluative accounts of the experience of participating in action learning for potential action learning participants to draw upon. This paper attempts to address this agenda. The paper presents an interpretive evaluation of the experience of nurses participating in action learning as the learning strategy underpinning a 3-year emancipatory practice development/practitioner research programme. In particular, the paper focuses on the experience of 'joining a learning set'. This focus has been adopted as the theory of action learning emphasises the principle of 'voluntariness', but yet action learning is increasingly being pre-prescribed as a component of development and research programmes. Such was the case with the programme reported on in this paper. The paper describes an approach used to evaluate learning that was adopted in this programme and in particular the initial evaluation stage that focuses on participants' feelings about joining an action learning set. The data collection and analysis processes are described and the key themes arising from the analysis ('self-preservation' versus 'development of self') discussed. It is concluded that working with principles of enlightenment is essential to successful action learning and the transformation of workplace cultures.