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Learning agility

Learning agility

Table of Contents

    Let’s face it, uncertainty is one of the few things we can count on in business. With automation, global skills shortages, and pandemics, companies face a ton of challenges. Most of which are difficult to prepare for.

    That’s where employees with high learning agility come in. 

    You know those employees that just know what to do even if they’ve never been in that situation before? The ones that can use their past experiences to solve new problems? They are the people that will see your business through tough times. And that magic skill they possess? That’s learning agility.

    Don’t just take our word for it. The research speaks for itself. Studies have shown that companies with highly agile leaders enjoy 25% higher profit margins than their competitors. 

    And there are benefits for employees too.

    Managers with high levels of learning agility are five times as likely to be engaged. 

    So with so much to gain, why is it that only 15% of the global workforce has high levels of learning agility?

    Our learning agility handbook covers everything you need to know, including:

    • What learning agility is
    • Why it matters to your organization 
    • How to assess learning agility and find the right learning agile person for the job
    • How to develop learning agility within your company 


    What is learning agility?

    Learning agility is a set of skills that let us learn something and then apply what we’ve learned to a whole new situation. Another way to describe it is the capacity to learn, unlearn, adapt, and relearn to stay abreast of a continuously changing environment. 

    When we’re in an unfamiliar situation and don’t know what to do, learning agility helps us figure out how to proceed and solve the problem.

    People with learning agility also tend to have some of the positive Big Five personality traits, such as agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to new experiences. 

    In a nutshell, learning-agile individuals have the competencies to face challenging situations with confidence and turn them into learning opportunities.

    Learning agility has five dimensions:

    • Mental agility: Interested in learning new things and looking at things from new perspectives.
    • People agility: Respect for diversity of opinion, finding learning about new cultures enjoyable, and knowing a disagreement doesn’t have to be the end of a relationship. 
    • Change agility: Not fearing change, embracing it, and always looking for the next best thing.
    • Results agility: Results-driven, responding well to challenges, and helping others achieve their goals.
    • Self-awareness: Knowing that you need to change. Helping people to be open to feedback and seek it out. 

    Now that we know what learning agility is, let’s take a closer look at why it’s important for today’s companies.

    Why does learning agility matter?

    According to Korn Ferry, learning agility is the best predictor of an executive leader’s success—managers with high learning agility scores were promoted twice as often in 10 years.

    Why is learning agility so important for leaders, then?

    Well, leadership is more than just delegating tasks and attending meetings. To be a successful leader, you have to:

    • Manage disruption
    • Deal with a changing business environment
    • Constantly adapt your strategies. 

    Essentially, good leaders are comfortable getting out of their comfort zone. 

    Companies today have to grapple with several difficult challenges. As a result, leaders and companies need to be agile and prioritize learning and professional development

    Learning agility is key to promoting continuous learning and establishing a learning culture in your company. It gives employees the tools to take accountability for their learning and apply the knowledge to come up with new solutions.


    Three ways to assess learning agility

    According to IEDP, only about 15% of people are agile learners. At the same time, these people are high-potential employees that are well-suited to leadership roles.

    Figuring out who in your company is an agile learning person and attracting more people like that should be a priority. 

    Luckily, there are ways to assess and measure learning agility. We’ll go over a few of them now.


    #1: Use a learning agility assessment test

    So, you know that learning agility is important and that people who are agile learners can help your organization a lot.

    The big question is how to find them.

    The best way is through a dedicated learning agility assessment test. IBM’s Learning Agility Measurement and Mettl Learning Agility Assessment are two of the most popular tests, although not the only ones.

    You can find these assessment tests through many different vendors and easily deliver them through a Learning Management System (LMS). 

    Typically, these tests measure traits such as flexibility and information gathering. Flexible people are likely to try new approaches and adapt quickly to new situations. Employees who score highly in information gathering value acquiring new knowledge that’s relevant to their work.

    If you test your employees, you might just discover who isn’t okay with the status quo, who’s ready to embrace new concepts, and who’s an excellent candidate for leadership development. 

    In addition to learning agility tests, you should also factor in emotional intelligence. Self-awareness, for instance, is a trait that learning agile and emotionally intelligent people share. 


    #2: Adjust your interview questions

    One of the main purposes of an interview is to get a feel for the candidate’s personality and see if they’re a culture fit. So why not structure interview questions to reveal a potential new hire’s learning agility?

    Learning culture fuels all HR missions. So, if you want to scope out if a potential new hire shows traits such as feedback-seeking and interpersonal risk-taking, here are the questions to ask:

    • “Tell me about a time when you sought feedback from a boss or colleague.” 
    • “Tell me about a time when you had to do something you’ve never done before. How did you feel when you were doing it, and what did you learn?

    In general, you want to ask what-if questions about new challenges and when they had to learn something new. The responses should show key behaviors connected to learning agility as defined by W. Warner Burke:

    • Feedback seeking
    • Interpersonal risk-taking 
    • Collaboration 
    • Reflection 
    • Experimentation 
    • Speed
    • Flexibility 


    #3: Consider cognitive ability tests

    First off, we have to make something clear—learning agility isn’t the same as learning ability or intelligence (IQ). Someone can be pretty intelligent and be able to learn well but still not have learning agility. 

    Nevertheless, you need to have a level of learning ability and intelligence to have learning agility. 

    So, if you want to suss out employees and candidates who could one day be leaders, it’s not a bad idea to start doing some cognitive ability tests. Add them to your selection process, and include them in your learning and development strategy. 

    The good news is that there are plenty of off-the-shelf tests you can buy from vendors and then deliver through your corporate LMS

    Combining a learning agility assessment with a cognitive ability test will give you a pretty clear picture of the ability level of a team member or prospective hire. This will help you identify high-potential talent that you can then nurture through professional development.

    In the next part of the guide, we show you some ways to develop learning agility within your organization.


    Two ways to develop learning agility within an organization

    We’ve seen the why,  now it’s time for the how.

    How can you develop learning agility within your organization? The first step is to make learning agility a part of your learning and development strategy and foster a learning culture in your organization. 

    Here are two main ways to do that.


    #1: Promote a learning agility mindset

    Maybe this seems a bit obvious, but you need to first promote a learning agility mindset. 

    Seems quite logical, but how do you go about it?

    1. You start by removing the barriers to learning agility, especially among your managers. Fear of the unknown and losing control are the two biggest hurdles that prevent agile learning from happening.

    So, begin by talking about learning agility. Your human resources and learning and development teams will have a big role to play. Introduce the concept of agile learning through informal training resources, internal newsletters, and Q&A sessions. Make sure to explain the benefits of it, both for individual professional development and the organization. That’s the way to get buy-in among the stakeholders.

    1. Next up, lead by example. Work on your learning agility and share your experience with team members and other colleagues. Did you take an e-learning course on learning agility? Share your insights on your LinkedIn profile or corporate comms tool.
    2. Finally, make learning agility a part of learning and development discussions. Promote an agile approach in one-on-ones and performance reviews. This can include discussing potential stretch projects and additional assignments.

    #2: Experiment with different training approaches

    There are many different approaches to learning, each with its benefits and strengths.

    To promote learning agility, don’t be afraid to mix it up.

    Structured training programs are an L&D staple, but they alone may not render the agile results you’re hoping for. That said, combining them with other informal learning strategies is highly effective. 

    For instance, leveraging social learning features on your LMS can foster a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration. This includes tools such as forums, discussion boards, and direct messaging.

    Incorporating microlearning content is another great way to enhance learning agility in your organization. Employees can access bite-sized chunks of targeted training to help them solve on-the-job problems quickly.

    Building learning agility is all about experimenting with different approaches to see what resonates with learners and garners the best results. At the end of the day, the more learning opportunities you provide your workforce, the more learning agility you’re going to see.

    Using LMS analytics can help you measure the results of your training efforts, so you have a clear idea of the approaches that are working.

    Up next, it’s recap time.


    Next steps toward an agile learning culture

    Experts tout learning agility as the single most important predictor of leadership success. And leaders with high learning agility pay off. 

    On top of being highly engaged and rising through the ranks quickly, employees with strong learning agility can boost the bottom line. With that in mind, it’s no wonder organizations are scrambling to assess and develop learning agility.

    To sniff out those with high learning agility, you can use specifically formulated tests, include some cognitive testing too, and tweak the questions you ask at your interviews. 

    It’s also possible to promote learning agility in your company by making it part of your learning and development efforts. An LMS is a key tool in achieving this. From delivering training and ability assessments to fostering a learning culture to measuring training results, it’s an integral cog in your learning ecosystem.

    Do you want to discover more about how L&D impacts your organization? Head over to our glossary.