The public sector environment is defined by change, complexity and uncertainty. Success in this context requires 'learning agility'. In other words, we need to demonstrate behaviours that enable us to continually learn and apply new skills, think on our feet and be flexible in our approach to problem solving.

Dr Paul Wood

In an interactive clinic, LDC provider panel member Dr Paul Wood, with Simon Miller from OPRA Consulting Group, introduced members to learning agility with a thought game. Paul gave everyone an object (a pen, cup or paper clip) and asked them to write a list of alternative uses for that object. The aim was to encourage participants to think more naturally and to prepare them for the kind of process required to develop learning agility.

"Developing our flexibility of thought is essential to getting ourselves to thinking outside the square", said Paul. Paul believes in people's capacity for positive change and works with a variety of people and their individual differences to create plans for lasting change.

Hallmarks of the agile learner

  • Reflects on experience to learn
  • Performs despite pressure
  • Uses innovative problem solving in novel situations
  • Is open to ideas and feedback
  • Seeks to understand
  • Has the courage to make decisions despite risk and discomfort


These features are relevant in work situations where there is an environment of uncertainty and complexity and employees could benefit from being able to think strategically and on their feet. Paul explained how talent is 'transferrable' and not 'confined to one place' and learning agility, which is essential for change, helps develop a collaborative mind-set.

The enduring characteristics of an agile learner

Intelligence

  • are quickly able to grasp what is going on
  • are quickly able to recognise patterns and draw logical conclusions
  • learn fast and can solve novel problems.

 

Emotional intelligence

  • understand your emotions, their causes, and their impact on your thoughts, behaviour and decision-making
  • are able to maintain a positive and optimistic outlook and are not derailed by unpleasant emotions (for example, anxiety and fear).

Personality

  • are confident in your ability and back yourself to succeed
  • are imaginative and look beyond the obvious
  • look for new and radical approaches to solving problems
  • are flexible in your approach.


The enduring characteristics listed above reflect the idea of expanding capacity rather than just filling it. The idea of 'raising the bar' goes hand-in-hand with all the characteristics, and individuals should be encouraged to continually work on developing their learning agility.

Specific behaviours of agile learners

Agile learners display a set of specific behaviours. They:

  • reflect: Learning occurs when we stop to question why something turned out as it did.
  • seek feedback: We are only able to maximise our learning and growth when we seek the perspectives of others.
  • innovate: Trying new approaches results in the development of new knowledge and processes.
  • take risks: New challenges allow us to stretch beyond our comfort zone and develop new skills and perspectives that may be crucial in the future.
  • perform: When under pressure, we often produce suboptimal outcomes through the desire to just get things done.

Feedback from members

  • "The aspect I valued most from this event was the practical application and information about learning agility. It was useful to hear personal stories about learning agility."
  • "Paul Wood engaged the audience immediately."

Learning Agility Toolkit

Help increase your learning agility with LDC's Learning Agility Toolkit.


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Learning agility: Thriving in challenging and changing times: LDC clinic audio summary

In an LDC members' interactive clinic, LDC provider panel member Dr Paul Wood, with Simon Miller from OPRA Consulting Group, introduced members to learning agility. Paul believes in people's capacity for positive change and works with a variety of people and their individual differences to create plans for lasting change. Listen to the edited highlights.