Tips for Improving Your Learning Agility

Learning to be an agile learner takes practice.

In a new white paper, Learning About Learning Agility, a team of researchers from the Teachers College, Colombia University, describe the five main facets of learning-agile behavior. Innovating, performing, reflecting and risking are learning enablers — and defending is a derailer or inhibitor of learning agility.

If you want to look more closely at these learning behaviors, read Are You an Agile Learner in last month’s issue of Leading Effectively.

To boost your learning agility, try these tips:

#1 Innovate. We often choose the first solution to come to mind rather than taking time to consider whether it is truly the optimal course over the long term. By trying out new approaches, you can uncover ways of doing things that could save time and energy and surface new learning that may otherwise have not been considered.

  • For each problem you face, challenge yourself to come up with new solutions, even if seemingly tried and trusted ones exist. Make it a habit to push for new ideas — the less traditional, the better.
  • When faced with a challenge, ask yourself two questions: What is holding me back from trying something new and different? If these constraints were not in place, how would I approach this situation differently?

 

#2 Perform. Under pressure, you probably feel the urge to get things done quickly. Ironically, consciously searching your mind for ideas and solutions closes us off to both the wisdom of others and our own experience. Inspiration often comes from the unconscious; being open to this can spark new ideas and strengthen performance.

  • When faced with something new, look for similarities between the situation and things you have done in the past. Draw on these similarities to frame the new challenge.
  • Ask questions to understand, not to be understood. Really listen to what others are saying and trust that you will have a response when they have finished talking.
  • When you find yourself feeling stressed, pause. Don’t just say or do the first thing that comes to your head — take a moment to consider what is really required.

 

#3 Reflect. Learning occurs when you take the time to reflect, to shift your thinking beyond merely what happened to ask why things happened the way they did. Finding ways to accomplish this, both alone and with others, is essential to learn from experience.

  • Find someone who you trust to give you open and honest feedback and challenge them to do so. Show that you are open to the process by only asking clarifying questions. Resist the temptation to explain your actions or make excuses.
  • Conduct after-action reviews where you, and relevant others, reflect on recent projects by asking three questions: What happened? Why did it happen that way? What should we stop/start/continue doing in order to ensure success in the future?

 

#4 Take Risks. Taking on new challenges allows you to develop new skills and perspectives that may become an important part of your repertoire in the future.

  • Take on a new challenge that scares you; find something that is meaningful but not so important that failure will have serious personal consequences. Most importantly, tell others what you are doing, and ask for their help and support.

 

#5 Don’t Defend. When you enter a mode of self-preservation and try to defend what is, you close yourself off to what could be. To practice non-defensiveness:

  • View feedback as a gift that someone is giving you. You may not like it, and it may be uncomfortable, but there is value in it nonetheless. Regardless of the other party’s motivations for giving you feedback, there is always the opportunity to learn something about yourself.
  • Resist the temptation to respond to feedback, especially at first. Try not to explain your actions to the other person or generate excuses in your own head. Always try to thank the other person.

 

Ultimately, your ability to continuously learn and adapt will determine the extent to which you thrive in today’s turbulent times — and succeed in the future.

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