Are you an agile learner?

Photo credit - Teddy Kelley via

Photo credit – Teddy Kelley via

One of the requirements of the 21st century is to be agile. Agility in learning is a wonderful trait, but is it easy to cultivate?

What is learning agility?
“Learning agility is the capacity for rapid, continuous learning from experience” (Valcour, 2015).  Well that sounds easy enough. Just learn quickly from experience. It’s a bit more than that. It’s also about making connections, trying new approaches to things and recognising when you should give up an “old way of operating” even if it has served you well.

Agile learners come in all shapes and sizes, and ages. It is a misnomer to think that young people are the most agile at learning and older people are not. I have managed staff where the young people were the hardest to shift in their mindsets.

A learning mindset
Being open to learning new things and to doing old things in new ways, means having a learning mindset. A belief that it is possible to learn how to do it is important. But there’s more.  As Valcour (2015) suggests, it means you “experiment, seek feedback, and reflect systematically.”

It is suggested that agile learners thrive on learning. Their curiosity levels are high. They get a buzz from learning new things. PLUS they don’t get defensive if they fail. They see mistakes as integral to the learning process and one of the most powerful ways of learning.

Learning agility is democratic. It happens when you are open to new ideas, not limited by predispositions to fixed ways of viewing situations and not arrogant about who makes the discovery.

How to develop your learning agility
Learning agility can be fostered with the help of a coach. Someone who facilitates a conversation with you about the learning experience, and encourages your self-reflection and future goal setting. Not everyone has the luxury of a coach though. So what can they do?

4 Ways to develop your own learning agility

  1. Ask for feedback
    Ask for feedback on something you have done, indicating your interest in improving your performance. Maintain a non-defensive stance. If you don’t agree with the feedback, ask questions to better understand it. Thank the person for providing feedback.
  2. Try new things
    After reflecting on the completion of a task/project, ask yourself what you could differently next time, or what you could do to change the outcome. Sometimes, it might mean changing an approach – others, a perspective.
  3. Look for unlikely connections
    Choose something you have expertise in but that’s unrelated to your work. See if you can apply the knowledge from one area to the other. This analogistic approach could allow you to apply different knowledge and processes, in a novel way with creative outcomes.
  4. Take time to reflect
    Reflecting boosts learning. Reflection is a great professional habit to develop to review what you have learnt and what you might do differently in future. Demonstrated, this habit engenders a similar approach in others. With others in your work area/team taking the same approach, can enhance the learning agility of the whole group.

In a world characterised by uncertainty, the old ways of dealing with things are not necessarily going to work any more. So learning agility is something that may hold the key to developing new solutions.


Valcour, Monique. 2015. 4 Ways to Become a Better Learner. Harvard Business Review. 31 December 2015.

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