Learning Agility: What it is and How to Measure it?

Learning Agility: What it is and How to Measure it? Дрессировка

Build your skills: learning agility

The concept of Learning Agility dates back to 1970, when American author Alvin Toffler in his book Future Shock, investigated the move from the traditional industrial age to a new age dominated by Information. He crafted a new definition of what literacy meant, anticipating by a decade the more complete definitions of Learning Agility:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn

Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, 1970

The switch from a concept of Literacy based on the simple accumulation of “stocks” of information, changes into a fluid model where the learning and unlearning have the same relevance. It’s this dynamic element that is the innovative portion of this skill’s definition.

Today this skill is in high demand, and has been strongly associated with Leadership. Put simply, “it’s the ability to be in a novel situation, not know what to do, and then figure it out anyway. Individuals who learn the ‘right’ lessons from past experiences are high in learning agility, meaning they’re able to identify the most important info in one situation, and connect it to the right context in a new situation”.

Learning agility is finding yourself in a new situation and not knowing what to do — but then figuring it out.

Can it be measured?

Korn/Ferry has developed a model for measuring Learning Agility. This model measures learning agility through four separate factors and one transcending element: self-awareness. This last element strongly affects the other four.

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Fig.1 The Learning Agility model of Korn/Ferry

What’s interesting is that by looking at the full model above, Korn/Ferry has discovered that a mere 15% of leaders has a strong level of Learning Agility, making this a scarce competency among talent.

Another model has been create by Dr. W. Warner Burke of the Teachers College at Columbia University, who broke the concept of Learning Agility down into 9 clusters:

Collaborating

Agile learners are always on the lookout for collaborative opportunities that will help them learn and grow. They soak in all they can learn from observing other working styles and are willing to accept help from others to achieve their ultimate goals.

Experimenting

Agile learners tend to experiment with new processes to find the most efficient, profitable way of doing things. 

Flexibility

Flexibility is a key quality of an agile learner. Learning agility requires candidates to be flexible according to their environment, changes within the industry, new goals, and growing expectations. 

How can i develop my learning agility?

Probably a first step is to understand where you stand today. If you want to measure your own levels of LA, there are three online testing available: Mettl Learning Agility Assessment, Korn/Ferry ViaEdge Self-Assessment and Burke’s Learning Agility inventory.

The Center for Creative Leadership has developed a simplified model, that focuses on behaviours grouped into 4 “enablers” and 1 “derailer”. You can use this model as a self-reflection mechanism:

How do i develop learning agility in others?

Whatever model you pick, several of the dimensions of Learning Agility depend on the openness to being wrong. This aspect, which is key in the unlearning process, is a key success factor that as a manager you can enable. Too often corporate cultures discredit errors, a situation that in the long term becomes a derailer for the development of Learning Agility.

We have found that learning ability is the leading predictor of success, number one above intelligence and education!

Laszlo Bock

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As usual there are three steps that you should take to focus on the correct behaviors.

  1. Model it. Make space for Learning first and foremost. Show your team that you personally take time to learn new things, and that you leanr form mistakes. I thought I could reach the goal using this method, but I was wrong, so I had to go back and start again. This will put you in a position of really leading byu example.
  2. Enable it. Ensure that people in your team can learn from errors. This is the fuel of the agility component. Organize sessions where as a team you reflect on what went wrong, not for punishment, but for celebration of what learnings you have derived.
  3. Celebrate it: take the time to reward the members of your teams that are able to make learnings out of an error, or move our of their comfort zones.

How to measure learning agility

According to the Burke Learning Agility Inventory, here are nine indicators of measuring learning agility:

Information gathering

Learning agility requires employees to remain up-to-date on relevant current events and the status of their industry. They must constantly be searching for ways to grow their skillset. 

Interpersonal risk-taking

An agile learner’s tendency to discuss differences and explore varying worldviews, challenging their thought processes in a way that promotes growth and learning. It also encompasses an agile learner’s willingness to acknowledge when they are wrong and learn from their mistakes.

Let’s check this up

Let’s do a pulse check on how you personally are doing in terms of Learning Agility. Think about the last week at work or at home, how many of the following statements are true?

And you? What do you think about Learning Agility?

Cover Photo by Rachel on Unsplash

Performance risk-taking

Learning agility requires candidates to leave their comfort zone, seeking out new challenges. This quality builds a diverse bank of experiences agile learners use to solve new, complex problems. 

Speed

Agile learners are quick to act on new ideas. This speed allows them to move through more opportunities while equipping them to pivot and grow at a rapid pace. 

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What are the different dimensions of learning agility?

According to research by Korn and Ferry, learning agility presents itself in 7 distinct profiles: 

  • Problem-solvers
  • Thought leaders
  • Trailblazers 
  • Champions
  • Pillars
  • Diplomats
  • Energizers

These learning agility examples seek out experiences to learn from, enjoy making sense of and solving complex problems, and display better performance overall because they are constantly acquiring new skills. 

When do you need a high potential learner?

A job role, industry, or organization demands high-potential learners if it involves performing work that requires robust interpersonal, cognitive, analytical, problem-solving, logical thinking, and decision-making skills. High-potentials are required when the nature of work is complicated, novel and has high-stakes attached to it, e.g., CXO and leadership roles, stock market trading, management consultant, etc.

When do you need a latent learner?

A job role, industry, or organization demands latent learners if it involves performing work that requires attention to detail, focus, perseverance, performing complicated routine tasks and strong cognitive abilities, e.g., accounting, banking.

When do you need an enthusiastic learner?

A job role, industry or organization demands enthusiastic learners if it involves performing work that requires creativity, people skills, passion, field expertise and an innovative thought process, e.g., journalism, media and entertainment and photography.

Who is a latent learner?

A latent learner has an above-average fluid intelligence level and average behavioral traits that support an agile learning mindset.

Who is an enthusiastic learner?

An enthusiastic learner has an average level of fluid intelligence (ability) and an above-average behavioral skills level that supports an agile learning mindset (intent).

Why is it important?

Learning agility is often linked to innovation, but also to the capacity to anticipate trends, and operate in situations marked by uncertainty. All these elements are key in the modern scenario for companies. Strongly supported by Curiosity, this trait allows leaders (but from my point of view also other Knowledge Workers) to constantly improve.

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