How to develop learning agility

‘Agile’ was a term originally used to describe a project management approach in software development. But it's now applied to various aspects of organizational life. And learning is no exception.

Written by Catriona MacLeod
Published 19 January 2021
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How to develop learning agility
Let’s take a look at what agile learning means, why it matters, and how to approach and promote it in your organization.
 

Agile learning: a definition

 
The notion of agile learning, or learning agility, has been neatly summed up by global consulting firm Korn Ferry as the "ability and willingness to learn from experience, and then apply that learning to perform successfully under new situations". [1]
 
It can also be useful to think of agile in terms of the need to learn, unlearn and re-learn. That way, you can adapt and thrive in the new world of work.
 

Why does learning agility matter?

 
There’s no doubt that organizations and employees today need to respond to rapid change. Whether that’s in the roles they perform, or the new technology and tools they use.
 
So, if individuals and organizations are going to be equipped to survive and thrive in the new order of things, then we'd better start flexing and adapting – fast.
 
Technology is disrupting traditional business models and it’s not clear what new roles will come in to replace them. Or, indeed, what our own jobs or careers might look like in the next five years.
 
As L&D strategist Arun Pradhan says, "You’re going to have to reinvent your job sooner than you think and more often than you’d like. And that’s why you need learning agility." [2]
 

What does good learning agility look like?

 
Developing learning agility requires us to develop a broad set of skills. Korn Ferry says ‘learning agile’ people are good at four key things: [3]
  1. Critical thinking – or ‘mental agility’ to make fresh connections and solve complex problems.
  2. Self-awareness – which helps to navigate and handle tough situations.
  3. Experimentation or ‘change agility’ – feeling comfortable with change
  4. Results agility – learning-agile people use their own drive and team-building abilities to deliver results in new situations.
 

Tips to develop your learning agility


Developing your own learning agility takes work. Having a coach or mentor can help you. But there are also some tips to get you thinking in a more agile learning way, based on advice from Mitchinson and Morris at the Center for Creative Leadership. [4] [5]
 

Take a different tack


When you face a problem or challenge, try to come up with new solutions rather than tried and tested ones. Ask yourself:
  • What's stopping me from trying something different?
  • Without these barriers, how would I take a different approach?
 

Take a risk


Put yourself out of your comfort zone by trying something that scares you. Taking a risk can push you to have a new perspective. What's more, you'll develop new skills that can help you move forward and feel more comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty and change.
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Engage in reflection


This is an important part of developing your self-awareness and helps you to really learn from experience. When trying something difficult or new, ask yourself afterwards how things went – and why.
 
But it's also important to ask for feedback from people you trust, however uncomfortable that might initially make you feel. Instead of feeling defensive, see this feedback as another opportunity to learn and grow.
 

How to encourage an agile learning culture


What about encouraging agile learning amongst your team or the wider organization? Common blockers to more agile notions of working and learning include fear of the unknown and fear of losing control. [6] 
 
So, managers, leaders and organizations need to do what they can to remove those barriers and enable more agile approaches to learning. Here are some tips to help with this:
 

Promote the concept of learning agility


It may sound obvious, but if you want a company of agile learners, then you need to help people understand what learning agility means, and the benefits it can bring individuals and your organization. HR and L&D professionals will have a role to play in this, but as a manager or leader you can also educate and promote people about it benefits via internal communications channels such as newsletters and blogs.
 

Lead by example


Be sure to work on your own learning agility, and make a conscious effort to share your experiences and successes with team members and other colleagues. Do that, and you'll encourage them to take a more agile view of learning.
 

Make it part of development discussions


Use development discussions or one-to-ones to encourage team members to think about how to become more learning-agile. That might mean discussing potential stretch projects or assignments, or giving feedback on progress to date.

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References

[1] Kenneth P. De Meuse, Guangrong Dai, George S. Hallenbeck, 'The Many Faces of Learning Agility: An excerpt from the 2010 Mid Winter Conference of Consulting Psychology in Scottsdale, AZ'. Available here. (Accessed 15 January 2021).

[2] Arun Pradhan, 'Good Practice podcast 128: How  do I develop learning agility?' (15 Jan 2019). Available here. (Accessed 15 January 2021).

[3] Kenneth P. De Meuse, Guangrong Dai, George S. Hallenbeck, 'The Many Faces of Learning Agility: An excerpt from the 2010 Mid Winter Conference of Consulting Psychology in Scottsdale, AZ'. Available here. (Accessed 15 January 2021).
 
[4] Adrian Mitchinson and Robert Morris, Center for Creative Leadership: 'Learning About Learning Agility'. Available here. (Accessed 15 January 2021).
 
[5] Center for Creative Leadership, 'Tips for Improving Your Learning Agility'. Available here. (Accessed 15 January 2021).

[6] Melissa Boggs, ‘Why a learning culture is inherently agile’ (20 Aug 2019). Available here. (Accessed 15 January 2021).

About the author

Catriona MacLeod

Catriona MacLeod

Editorial Manager
Catriona has over 19 years of experience in editorial management. She works with clients across a wide range of sectors to deliver relevant and practical resources to meet the learning needs of leaders and managers. Catriona loves the variety of her role, from writing and editing content to conducting video interviews with industry experts.

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