A Model for Learning Agility

A Model for Learning Agility

By John Milsom

Learning Agility can be defined as extent to which an individual is equipped to learn from their experience and apply these insights to new situations. In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, the importance of learning is paramount. Learning agility can also accelerate the diversity and inclusion agenda, as the more progressive organisations define their people requirements in terms of skills, and not just experiences, thereby increasing fairness and opening up untapped pools of talent.

At leadership consultancy Wickland Westcott we have studied research in this field, and combined with our own experience of working with leaders, identify six underpinning factors.

Cognitive Ability to make links and integrate new information, work deftly with complex ideas, entertain step-change and discontinuity, and handle ambiguity. Memory is a key component of this factor.

Learning Motivation relates to aspects of personality, in particular one of the big five dimensions – Openness to Experience. Learning Motivation is associated with high levels of curiosity, an intrinsic interest in learning, and an enduring thirst for gaining new experiences.

Emotional Intelligence. All four of the Goleman’s EI elements are important, in order to provide the emotional stability required for individuals to seek honest feedback and process it effectively.

The three core drivers described above are generally stable elements that can be tough to develop. However with focussed effort, changes are possible and indeed likely over an individual’s lifetime. The following three Accelerants are much more susceptible to change (in our view) – more easily developable within the shorter term.

Learning Capability refers to an individual’s proficiency in skills related to learning, including being able to spot valuable learning opportunities, planning learning-related activities, and building in time for preparation, personal reflection and knowledge consolidation.

Domain Experience refers to the experience the individual has accumulated. It is domain specific, rather than generic. This is a particularly interesting factor from an assessment perspective, because whilst experiencing something does tend to make it easier to learn about, there is no guarantee such learning actually accrues. This introduces the risk that ‘years of experience’ is erroneously treated by recruiters as a proxy for accumulated learning, damaging the fairness of the process and closing-off less domain-experienced but equally capable candidates.

Domain Aspiration relates to the person’s level of interest in learning within that specific field of expertise. Essentially, is the person interested in immersing her/himself in that discipline? It could be driven by a particular passion (eg. for a type of music, sport, or particular subject) or by a belief that developing oneself would be helpful (eg. in earning a promotion or achieving a long-term career goal). Without this absorption, the learning is unlikely to be sufficiently deep-rooted.


What next?

The identification of these six learning agility factors helps inform our assignments in finding and developing leaders. At Wickland Westcott we are learning all the time however, so if you have alternative views or would like to discuss any aspect of leadership, please contact John Milsom (Director) on 01625 508100 (john@wickland-westcott.email).


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