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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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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