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    Are You an Agile Learner?

    I have heard many times from different people that they don’t have time to learn (i.e. reading articles, attending workshops or conferences, reflecting on workplace experiences, etc.).  They are too busy and they are consumed with keeping up with the demands of their work.  (I think many of us can relate to this feeling). W. Warner Burke and his colleagues at Teachers College, Columbia University have conducted research and offer the concept of “Learning Agility” as a way for leaders to manage their own learning in the workplace.

    Learning agility is defined as “how people approach learning from experience.  Leaders who learn from experience with speed and flexibility are able to move fluidly through different work tasks and career experiences.”

    Just as organizations must evolve to meet changing technologies, employee needs and market demands, leaders must also be flexible and lead their organization through challenges and changes. Being an agile learner doesn’t only apply to business. It can also lend itself well to the changing mission landscape and evolving workforce development needs.

    Burke and his colleagues offer seven habits to be agile learners:

    • Feedback Seeking – they seek information from others about their performance
    • Information Seeking – they stay up-to-date by reading newspapers and other publications
    • Performance Risk-Taking – they take on tasks that have the possibility of failure
    • Interpersonal Risk-Taking – they admit mistakes, ask for help and speak up
    • Collaborating – they work cooperatively with others and learn in groups
    • Experimenting – they tinker and play with new ideas to test what will work
    • Reflecting – they take time to understand and make meaning from their experiences

    They also offer some insights on what learning agile leaders are not, including:

    • Rigid – stuck in certain ways of doing work
    • Reactive – volatile, impulsive, or reckless
    • Defensive – insecure about critical feedback or afraid to admit mistakes or ask for help

    How do you learn in the workplace?  Do you seek feedback about your performance?  Do you experiment?  How do you collaborate with others?  Most important, how do you take time to reflect and make sense of daily events and incorporate them to inform your own learning?  Learning in the workplace is not an option, or nice-to-have; it is imperative.  Learning agility practices are one way you might consider approaching your learning in the workplace.


    GII Executive Development Program Director
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