Executive Summary: In organizations, most agile leaders anticipate and handle changes better, leading to better success. Agility can come from leaders, and more importantly from employees. For example, frontline employees have better visibility of situations. The leaders’ job is to facilitate the conditions for agility. To be agile, individuals must be willing to learn, unlearn and relearn. Learning agility is the ability to learn and apply skills. This blog details what learning agility is and why it is required for your employees. It discusses key elements to enhance learning agility, and how to develop and nurture the same. Lastly, it discusses microlearning, an effective approach to build a culture of learning agility in organizations.
In an era of realignment, change is the only thing that is constant. Situations are unpredictable, and at some point everyone is confronted with a new situation which they may not know how to handle. Learning agility is the capacity to learn and apply skills for such situations. Learning agility is the most sought after skill by every individual, team and organization. Business strategies that were successful a month back may not be pertinent today. So. willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn turns an individual into a preferred candidate for any position. Growth mindset is the key for individuals to be open to learning agility. How can this learning agility be quantified? As an organizational leader, how can you identify a receptive person with learning agility? How can you build a culture of higher learning agility for the organization? Let us discuss some of these in detail.
"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, The Future Shock (1970)
What is learning agility?
American author Alvin Toffler wrote this in his book Future Shock (1970), way ahead of his time. He explained learning agility then.
Learning agility is defined by Columbia University’s Center for Creative Leadership as “a mindset and corresponding collection of practices that allow leaders to continually develop, grow and utilize new strategies that will equip them for the increasingly complex problems they face in their organizations.”
Learning agility is not just confined to leaders, though it may be a major requirement for effective leadership. For organizations to be successful, their employees should have a growth mindset to continually develop their learning and understanding. They should be ready to welcome new strategies that will help them adapt to the booming complex problems faced by their organizations. Though the agile mindset of leaders is quintessential for organizations, without a receptive workforce, organization wide problems will continue to linger on.
For example, a consumer goods company has several hundred people. When introducing a new product in the marketplace, it is essential to bring marketing professionals first to prepare the information for consumers and to train salespeople. Instead, just relying on salespeople may not be a great start.
Learning Agility is the ability of an individual to handle new issues. However, it holds a futuristic relevance too.
"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."
- Will Rogers
Learning ability and learning agility
Learning ability gets you to a specific point from where learning agility takes over.
Learning ability is about the speed and flexibility with which one learns and applies the knowledge. Learning new skills is advantageous to one’s personal and professional life. It helps improve their abilities and create a change in their attitude or personality. Learning ability creates skills that can be used throughout your life. Some examples of learning abilities are time management, problem-solving, decision making, analytical skills, etc.,
On the other hand, learning agility is the ability to learn what to do when you don’t know what to do. It’s about learning from experience and applying it to unknown circumstances. Learning agility requires continuous learning and training. Examples of learning agility are growth mindset, willingness to change, etc.,
Let’s look at how learning ability is different from learning agility.
Learning ability is about how you learn, consume and apply the knowledge.
Learning agility is to learn what to do when you don’t know what to do.
Learning ability is IQ-based.
Learning agility is based on emotional intelligence.
It’s about one’s speed and capacity to understand and apply the knowledge.
It’s the ability of one to learn from experience and apply it to new circumstances and opportunities.
Learning ability creates skills that can be used throughout your life.
Learning agility requires continuous learning and training.
Learning ability is natural or inherited. It can be improved by practice.
Learning agility can be inculcated or developed.
Eg. Ability to communicate, Time management
Eg. Growth mindset, Willingness to change
“To succeed in today’s complex business world, individuals, leaders and organizations must be adaptable, resilient and open to innovative thinking. And above all, they need one essential quality - ‘Learning Agility’.”
-Steve Newhall - Korn Ferry’s
Why does your workforce need learning agility?
Continuous learning has been a part of life right from birth. A child learning to sit, stand, walk, run, etc. is not just continuous development, but continuous learning. As a student, there is progressive learning aka continuous learning. For example, from simple addition to calculus, the learning curve is continuous. Unfortunately, when one reaches adulthood, there is a lot of uncertainty, reluctance, and apprehension. Most adults may not be willing or able to learn and adapt new concepts when the situation demands. They may have a resistance to take risks.
Companies cannot be agile with agile leaders alone. It is important for employees to also adopt learning agility for companies to change. For example, in a world of evolving technology, employees may resist a new technology being implemented, though the new system may be distinctly better than the current one. But, recent incidents have led us to the conclusion that it is not just people or technology that require businesses to adjust. Anything from a viral pandemic to a natural calamity can require major business readjustments.
The COVID-19 shutdowns necessitated companies to react in a flash. Employees had no choice but to change their working style, acquire soft skills and manage a new work environment. New technical skills like video conferencing, soft skills like time management and boundary setting were required. Working from home also required an entirely new set of working rules, as the family was around. But this time around, there was no choice or time to adapt. Everyone was literally forced to be agile, as the circumstances did not accommodate alternatives. The challenge now is to ensure the productivity of the agile workforce working remotely. Agility supports employees to work from anywhere and anytime, provided their efficiency and productivity remain unaffected.
To add on, every organization faces the threat of keeping up with the competitors. The ability to learn new skills, create new products, and adjust to the speed of new market conditions is quintessential for any organization to survive, let alone succeed. This emphasizes the need for a workforce with learning agility.
Organizations need a learning agile workforce because
- Without it organizations can’t change.
- Learning agility predicts long-term success and boosts profit margins.
- The competition won’t rest, and organizations need to keep up.
Examples of learning agility in companies
1. Case of a Jewelry Retailer
Keeping employees upskilled and updated with changing trends is a common challenge in the retail industry. The same was the case with one of India’s renowned jewelers. With 1000s of employees at various stores, they needed an effective solution to train employees. So, they adopted an agile learning strategy via microlearning through RapL.
Using RapL, this retail giant introduced a handful of microlearning topics to start with. These lessons were tailored for their front line employees, with a focus on the company’s products, process, and culture. The company reduced training costs and facilitated faster dissemination of information. With an easy to use RapL application on their mobile phones, employees learned by repeated practice with end-user facing scenarios. Employees would take scenario-based quizzes or look up information at their convenient time and place. Below is an example scenario:
Employees could stay updated with the changing policies/product updates and provide finest customer service to the clients. While the learning was in progress, trainers and leaders got insights on learning progress within the organization. Using advanced analytics, the leaders were able to map the learning progress to a measure of learning agility. Fittingly enough, the groups were named Diamond, Gold, and Silver based on the pace of learning agility. About 30% of the learners, the Diamond Users, demonstrated faster than normal learning and were considered to have higher learning agility. About 20% of the learners classified in the Silver group exhibited difficulties to keep pace with the learning pace required. Select scenarios were challenging to some. All these insights were available for the leaders to act on. Using such insights, scenarios and learner profiles were tuned to improve the quality of outcomes, leading to better learning agility. RapL helped this customer serve their clients better and improve the bottom line by training their employees.
2. Kodak Company
Kodak, a household brand with a 120-year-old history, is unquestionably one of the most important names in photography"
- Edward Clay, November 10, 2020
After dominating the world of photography for a significant period, Kodak became an example of how failing to adapt and lacking agility destroyed a giant among its competitors.
Kodak invented and dominated the film market before the invention of digital photography. Kodak had about 145,000 employees during its peak years, which has now dropped to a few thousands. What caused this massive change? In 1975, Kodak invented the digital camera. However, they shelved it, as they feared it would disrupt their primary film business. They were reluctant to move forward, as they failed to adapt to the new technology. For the worst part, they hoped the new technology would die down.
But their competitors did not stay still. They developed digital cameras, causing the film industry to fall to ruins. Kodak had a high probability of having led the digital revolution, but instead, they failed. The lack of agility to learn a new technology and business model led to their downfall.
Key elements to enhance learning agility
Sam has been promoted from a Barista to a Shift Lead at a retail coffee. Or maybe he’s moving over to another career path entirely, say, a social media influencer. How would he know that he’ll be good at his new job? Short answer: He won’t.
So, he must be able to think on his feet and make the best on-the-moment decisions to perform well in unfamiliar situations. He’ll need to be an agile learner. But hang on! Isn’t that some ability that someone is born with? Not at the least. The traits to enhance learning agility can be learned. Here’s how.
- Growth Mindset : The expertise that gets one hired to a specific role might be insufficient a few months later. Learning agility is the key here. An open and receptive mindset to experience new things constantly helps one reach new goals and succeed in his career. This growth mindset enhances learning agility.
- Motivation : The learning process needs to engage and inspire the learners. To unlearn and relearn is difficult to start with, as changing ingrained behaviors and long-held habits takes a lot of effort.
- Adaptability : Situations can be anything like a co-worker quitting without notice with a pile of work left behind. It might be the absence of a team member who was supposed to make a presentation. At such times, the business-as-usual routine gets disturbed. Employees who are learning agile are adaptable to learn, handle the situation, and consistently work on improving their skills.
- Flexibility : Individuals should be flexible to new ideas and changes. A rigid mindset will not aid continuous learning. Readiness to learn skills outside of one’s normal requires flexibility. When a new situation presents itself employees should be able to alter habits, routines and processes they have been following for long.
How to develop and nurture learning agility among employees?
In a business world, there are constant technological and other disruptions. This makes the requirement to increase knowledge and learn new skills crucial. This is indispensable to survive among competitors and handle the change effectively.
Challenge the status-quo
Performing significantly better in unfamiliar situations, decisively and proficiently to events, solving problems by taking cues from past experiences, and exhibiting high creativity are some traits of an agile person. If every employee was to maintain the status-quo and not challenge the long-held assumptions, any new situation might be demanding. Employees must challenge the status-quo, cultivate and nurture the ability to be agile. This makes them efficient at work and helps excel in their career. Agility helps to develop unique and useful solutions for any potential problems they face.
Learn from mistakes and experiences
Agility is not an in-born trait that is hardwired into everyone. When people try to increase their agility, they may make mistakes. While we smile, enjoy, and even record a toddler mispronouncing certain words, sometimes we need to be accepting of our mistakes.
It’s important to acknowledge that every individual is prone to make mistakes when trying new skills. Even perfectly agile people tend to make mistakes when trying new things. Failures are an opportunity for growth, not a stopping point. It is important to ensure that one learns from their failures. This leads to continuous learning, and organizations should acknowledge and encourage learning from mistakes. When confronted with new situations, cues from these past experiences might be relevant.
Venture into new territories
Cross-training can help people gain flexibility. Processes from other departments can help open the minds of employees to other ideas. Once they start learning new skills, it makes it easier to learn more skills later. This prevents complacency among your employees.
Peer mentoring helps increase employee learning and to pass on specific skills, knowledge, and competencies. Recognizing and rewarding innovation keeps employees motivated.
Agility is what will keep businesses going in good times and in bad times. So measuring and nurturing agility among employees is the key to survival and beyond.
Microlearning - A way to enhance learning agility
In the process of enhancing learning agility, the need of the hour is a platform for continuous learning and development. Traditional L&D processes don’t mobilize learning agility. The millennials have entered the ever evolving workplace and are contributing in increasing numbers. At this stage, every organization needs a continuous learning and performance tracking mechanism.
A continuous learning environment is created by encouraging employees to learn steadily, by providing them the tools to facilitate the same. But continuous learning does not mean taking a few working hours everyday or a day of the week to learn. This becomes an inefficient instructional design model. This is where microlearning is an effective solution to several training issues.
Microlearning is an instructional design approach that delivers small, focused bits of information to learners to consume and retain easily. The bite-sized units are delivered in various formats, such as videos, quizzes, etc., and are designed to be consumed in a few minutes. Microlearning allows employees to learn at their own pace and on their own schedule. It targets the specific needs of employees, and allows organizations to track employee progress. By implementing microlearning in employee training programs, organizations can see real results in terms of improved learning outcomes and increased productivity.
The organizational need for continuous learning is addressed by microlearning efficiently and effectively. This helps build a culture of learning in the organization.
Organizations across the world have joined the micro-learning club to enhance agility and productivity.
At RapL, we are committed to assisting teams like yours to develop and disseminate micro-courses for your employees. Our teams are dedicated to creating high-quality engaging content, and our training platforms allow your employees to challenge themselves and enjoy their learning! Contact us at email@example.com and we’d be thrilled to introduce you to the world of microlearning.
Mr. Arun Muthukumar
CEO of RapL Inc
Arun Muthukumar is a dynamic entrepreneur, and founder & CEO of RapL, Inc. He has significant global experience in the field of edTech and SaaS applications. His passion is to empower people and organizations through effective adoption of technology.
Arun brings decades of global experience in information and communications technology. He has also pioneered e-learning solutions at Cisco Systems and in his earlier startups. He worked on edTech projects for the New York school system, the Ministry of Education in Thailand, and IIMs in India. Arun was awarded the Path Finder and President’s Gold medal at Bell Labs in Boston, USA for his work on optical networking.
Arun has an MS in Computer Engineering from the University of Kentucky (USA), and a B.E in Electronics from the College of Engineering, Anna University in Chennai, India. Arun is passionate about travel and sports. He loves playing competitive Badminton and Tennis.