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Learning and Development | 6 Min Read

Learning Agility: What it is and How to Measure it?

What is Learning Agility?

Learning agility is a combination of skills that make an individual able and willing to learn from experience and apply insights from those experiences to perform effectively in challenging and unfamiliar situations. Learning agility is an essential competency in this VUCA world as it enables individuals to learn, unlearn, and relearn. 

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Future Shock
Alvin Toffler (1970)

Toffler was way ahead of his times and had defined the learning agility model in simplistic terms. While the competency did not gain popularity, it has now become essential in modern-day organizations seeking to invest in high-potential employees to further their learning and development goals. The Center for Creative Leadership’s research suggests there are certain behaviors that high learning-agile individuals commonly employ. While these behaviors may be inherent in some due to personality, anyone can imbibe them with the required effort. As per the research, learning agile individuals are an extremely active organizational member. They are friendly and energetic, create new plans and ideas, are methodical perfectionists, and are unafraid to challenge others or express opinions. Learning-agile individuals are resilient, significantly calmer than their less-agile counterparts. This suggests that learning-agile individuals seek new and challenging situations that may serve as learning experiences and manage these challenges effectively, allowing learning to occur.

 


Why Is Learning Agility Important?

Learning agility has become increasingly important for two key reasons: 

Rapid technological advancements mandate emphasis on ongoing personal advancement and learning agility. In today’s world, where change is the only constant, it’s important to keep up with learning and development trends. People should keep developing themselves; otherwise, they might become incompetent in their current position and eventually struggle to survive in the business ecosystem.

Competent leaders drive successful organizations and are excellent at managing unforeseen changes, ambiguity and uncertainty. They are known for their exceptional ability to learn new skills or become comfortable with new tech. People with high learning agility can perform to the best of their abilities, even in a disruptive business environment. This necessitates cultivating real-time and agile learning as the most critical skill for holistic personal development. Since present-day organizations are becoming increasingly complex and dynamic due to fast-changing business, learning agility or mental agility has become one of the most desired competencies for recruits and existing employees.

An organization with an agile learning workforce has:

  • Improved employee productivity
  • Future-ready workforce
  • Increase in the number of high-potentials
  • Higher overall organizational productivity and profitability

 


A Peek into the Future of Workplace

Top skill organizations look for while hiring talent

 

hiring_talent

 

We often come across terms such as Industry 4.0 – the next phase of the industrial revolution. Several forces are changing the corporate landscape at an unprecedented pace. What used to be stable and predictable is now dynamic and interconnected.

The future of jobs is being shaped by:

  • Technologies such as AI and robotics (leading to automation),
  • Increased competition due to globalization 
  • A constant need to innovate
  • The younger generations pushing against traditional notions of work and opting for the most in-demand careers 

This has given rise to:

  • Gig workers who by several estimates, will constitute 50% of the global workforce in the next five years
  • A multi-generational workforce, with widely differing personal and professional objectives

All this is unfolding in a digitally connected and fast-shrinking world. The evolving landscape challenges HR to keep up with trends and stay relevant in today’s talent economy.

Work tasks are becoming novel and require strong analytical and interpersonal skills. Jobs that require employees to do manual and repetitive work are fast disappearing. Automation is taking care of repetitive tasks that do not need high cognitive abilities or human touch. As businesses transform to meet changing customer demands and technology enables automation of simple and repetitive jobs, many jobs will seize to exist. Many new jobs will also come into existence. Additionally, most jobs will transform to accommodate changing customer demands. Organizations need to develop a future-ready workforce trained in futuristic skills to keep up with the change.

The Ratio of Man-Machine Working Hours 2018 vs. 2022

 

The World Economic Forum’s data on new technologies and levels of adoption in businesses worldwide

 

When we deep dive into the implications of this data, we witness changes happening at a fundamental level – at the level of job roles, skills and competencies. Machines are increasingly performing the essential skills required for most jobs. This change is happening as we speak, and in the next three years, almost 40% of most jobs can be performed reasonably well by machines. And it will hardly take time for this mix to skew exponentially toward machines, with constant optimization of machine learning algorithms and the overabundance of data and processing power. This is the real challenge. So, what skills are relevant?

Skills: The Currency of Future of Work

Numerous jobs will become redundant, and new roles requiring new skills will emerge. Some studies estimate that about 58 million new job roles will require reskilling by 2022. But a broad clustering of the new roles reveals that they will be around technology, organization development, and people and culture. The new skills and roles support not only the technology disruption but most drivers of Industry 4.0.

You need people/social skills to manage a multi-generational and diverse workforce. It would be best if you had focused and targeted L&D initiatives to drive the adoption of new skills to innovate and create leadership muscle to manage an increasing number of freelancers and gig workers. Now that we know why we and what skills we need to reskill on, we need to understand how quickly people can pick up on training. Do they have the ability or the willingness to learn new skills and apply them to unfamiliar situations? The good news is, with rapid advancements in the science of assessments, we can now measure this objectively, using one of the most effective L&D solutions, i.e., Learning Agility.

The Willingness to Learn

In a world of constant business and technological disruption, the desire to know more and learn new skills to survive and improve as per the change has become crucial. Achieving business results without learning new strategies and models has become almost impossible. Continual learning helps businesses and individuals who are career-driven and aim for higher roles of responsibilities. The willingness to learn has multifold benefits:

  • Provides career growth and promotion opportunities
  • Enhances the readiness to face challenges and uncertainty
  • Assists innovation and creativity
  • Improves flexibility and adaptability

The Learning Agility advantage: How does being an agile learner contribute to individual, leadership and organizational success?

We have found that learning agility is the leading predictor of success, number one above intelligence and education!

Laszlo Bock
Former Senior Vice President HR of Google

How can agile learning bring a notable difference in work performance? Let’s say you’re comparing two employees A and B who have joined their first job, having the same skill training and educational background but possess different learning agility levels.

 

low learning agility vs. high learning agility

 

The employee with high learning agility is a valuable proposition for every company. In contrast, the employee with low learning agility is on the verge of becoming obsolete in driving organizational productivity and profitability. Employee B can be easily relied upon to take up leadership positions and is more dependable in their present and future performance.

The workforce of the future: Why do employees need to be learning agile?

When you evaluate the job openings today, a staggering number of them require data analytics, coding and software development skills. You can barely find a job that requires soft skills such as verbal ability, basic numerical skills or communication skills. The reason being any job that requires performing basic repetitive tasks are getting automated. This concerns individuals who do not have any technical skill sets and are from a non-tech educational background. The age-old thinking of working as per one’s academic training hinders people’s ability to learn new skills independently. People’s siloed thinking makes them stick to a specific job role, which will cause future unemployment.

Our research shows that the fastest growing demand for technology skills is actually across all jobs, not just technology-specific jobs. As technology and automation advances, all employees will need to develop new skills and become increasingly comfortable with working alongside and, in many cases, working for intelligent machines. Traditional jobs requiring a narrow skillset will make way for less repetitive, non-routine work requiring complex problem-solving, curiosity, foresight, empathy, resilience, and accelerated learning.

Aaron McEwan
from CEB, now Gartner

Job tasks are becoming increasingly novel and require strong analytical and interpersonal skills. Such as: 

  • Jobs requiring employees to do manual and repetitive work are disappearing fast
  • Automation is taking care of tasks that are repetitive and does not require high cognitive abilities or human touch
  • All functions in job roles globally are becoming increasingly novel or non-repetitive and require using high cognitive abilities

 

Change in the nature of job tasks over the years

 

Future of Work: Why is it essential for organizations to have an agile learning workforce

The skill gap is widening!

One of the most significant talent-related challenges that organizations face today is acquiring talent that possesses the right skill set that the job role demands. With the advent of AI, machine learning, IoT and in-depth consumer analytics-driven business strategies, it’s not surprising that the talent finds it challenging to keep up with the new technologies that businesses are imbibing.

Businesses are struggling to continually upskill their employees so that they remain relevant in their job role. But all employees cannot learn new skills fast.

Hiring managers are often riddled with questions such as: 

  • How do I know if my employees can be relied upon to drive organizational growth and profitability in the present and future?
  • A candidate performed very well on an aptitude test or a coding simulation. Does it ensure that they would evolve along with the job and the organization to meet the customer’s future needs?
  • How do you identify talent that can lead the company tomorrow?
  • Is IQ or domain skills enough to determine an employee’s success at work? What are the skills that guarantee high performance, be it any job?

Such questions have triggered the need for redefining the criteria that are generally equated with high-performing employees. It’s not education, experience or even IQ. The new benchmark that separates high-performers from the average is learning agility.

Organizations in all sectors that don’t find a way to develop learning agility will quickly be left behind.

Dani Johnson
RedThread Research

How to identify learning agile talent?

 

Learning agile individuals are well aware of their learning preferences as they frequently indulge in learning. Different people like to learn differently. Some prefer to learn by experience; others like learning by reading (online or on paper), whereas many like watching online tutorials or learning in-person from a mentor or in a physical classroom. Understandably, we all have a preferred mode of learning that we find most intriguing and rewarding. Learning agile people are always looking for something new to learn and hence are very clear about their learning preferences. Others are unsure as they have never proactively tried learning anything on their own.

 


How to Measure Learning Agility?

Assess talent on tasks that they have no prior experience to measure their learning agility.

Alex Robinson, Hiring Manager at Team Building Hero, assesses the learning agility of talent in an interesting manner- “Learning agility is arguably our #1 requirement for finding top candidates for all roles. We try to find people that are a good culture fit for the company and have a strong ability to learn — and we put only a minimal weight on existing skills and experience. We’ve found that when we hire this way, we can choose from many candidates and then invest in training the best ones to help them grow and develop in their roles. While our processes are still developing, we’ve found the best way to identify learning agility is to assign tasks to job candidates that they may not be familiar with. An example could be having a customer service applicant make custom images to post to social media or a marketing team member to do a practice sales call. Seeing how these candidates perform outside their core competency helps determine learning capacity.

 

Learning agility = Ability to learn + Orientation to learn

 

An individual’s learning agility depends on their ability to learn and the inclination or orientation to learn. It’s not just high IQ or cognitive intelligence that determines whether a person can learn various things quickly and deeply. Behavior also plays a key role. Mercer | Mettl has considered this to devise a method for measuring a person’s learning agility based on two factors: ability and orientation.

  • Ability to learn: essential cognitive competencies that predispose a person to learn quickly by identifying patterns, logical rules and new data trends.  
  • Orientation to learning: crucial behavioral competencies that will predispose the respondent to learn new things faster than others.

Measuring Learning Ability

An individual’s ability to learn is determined by their fluid intelligence or the ability to learn new things from scratch and apply it in different ways. Fluid intelligence can be measured using abstract reasoning or spatial reasoning tests. Learning Ability = Fluid Intelligence = The ability to discern patterns and linkages and connect different concepts.

Measuring Learning Orientation

An individual’s orientation to learn is determined by their behavioral attributes, such as open-mindedness, drive for mastery, consciousness and inquisitiveness. Learning Orientation = Open-mindedness + Inquisitiveness + Drive for Mastery + Consciousness = Essential behavioral competencies that will predispose the respondent to learn new things faster than others.

Developing Learning Agility

Like any other skill or competency, an individual can learn to be agile by strengthening their fluid intelligence and developing an interest in learning new things.

Ren Jones, the owner of Rennovate It, shares how learning ability and intent/orientation are needed to be learning agile. “Learning ability is not weighted more or less heavily than learning intent, but rather, they are both necessary for a learner. For learning to occur, the learner must have varying degrees of intent and ability, the necessary levels of each depend on each other. For instance, if an employee has a lower learning ability, they will need a higher level of intent/orientation to comprehend the new information. If an employee has low intent, they will need a higher ability to help them catch on. The best employee would be one with a healthy balance of both ability and intent.”

Mercer | Mettl’s Learning Agility Matrix

Mercer | Mettl’s Learning Agility Matrix is an essential model that measures an individual’s or an organization’s learning agility and provides actionable insights needed to improve performance and productivity.

 

Mercer | Mettl’s Learning Agility Matrix

 

Organizations require employees with different levels of learning agility. The learning agility model identifies the learning agility demand for multiple industries, organizations and job roles. The model assesses a person’s or an organization’s learning agility and presents essential insights needed to enhance performance and productivity. There are four learning agility categories based on permutations and combinations of learning intent and ability. These four types are average, enthusiastic, latent and high-potential.

 

Mercer-Mettl’s-Learning-Agility-Matrix

 

The learning agility level required in any organization’s job role determines the agility level that employees working in that job role must possess. The average level of learning agility that an organization’s workforce must have to succeed in their specific job roles determines the organization’s learning agility demand.

Who is an average learner?

An average learner has average fluid intelligence (ability) and behavioral traits that support a learning agile mindset (intent).

When do you need an average learner?

A job role, industry, or organization requires average learners if the job mandates performing routine, non-novel and straightforward tasks, e.g., data entry, KPO or BPO.

Who is an enthusiastic learner?

An enthusiastic learner has an average level of fluid intelligence (ability) and an above-average behavioral skills level that supports an agile learning mindset (intent).

When do you need an enthusiastic learner?

A job role, industry or organization demands enthusiastic learners if it involves performing work that requires creativity, people skills, passion, field expertise and an innovative thought process, e.g., journalism, media and entertainment and photography.

Who is a latent learner?

A latent learner has an above-average fluid intelligence level and average behavioral traits that support an agile learning mindset.

When do you need a latent learner?

A job role, industry, or organization demands latent learners if it involves performing work that requires attention to detail, focus, perseverance, performing complicated routine tasks and strong cognitive abilities, e.g., accounting, banking.

Who is a high-potential learner?

A high-potential is an individual with both: very high level of fluid intelligence and behavioral traits that support a learning agile mindset.

When do you need a high potential learner?

A job role, industry, or organization demands high-potential learners if it involves performing work that requires robust interpersonal, cognitive, analytical, problem-solving, logical thinking, and decision-making skills. High-potentials are required when the nature of work is complicated, novel and has high-stakes attached to it, e.g., CXO and leadership roles, stock market trading, management consultant, etc.

 


Business Impact of Using Learning Agility Competency Assessment

Learning agility is a meta-concept reflecting the constellation of an individual’s cognitive ability and behavioral predisposition. Outcomes of high learning agility include the ability to make a smooth transition between different roles as per the role or company requirement, having a high-potential for career advancements and better job performance due to the constant addition of new skills and knowledge.

Learning agility assessment

Mercer| Mettl learning agility assessment enables organizations to identify agile learners, who will be the future leaders and drive overall growth. 

This comprehensive assessment is used for:

  • Creating a talent pool for identifying high-potentials (including early career, emerging talent), specific job assignments, development and coaching support and succession plans.  
  • Making better-recruiting decisions for roles where learning agility is critical
  • Aiding team-building exercises
  • Finding current employees who are expected to succeed in overseas tasks

According to Mercer | Mettl’s State of Workplace Learning and Development 2020, training effectiveness significantly increases when organizations measure employees’ learning ability before the training.

 

Assessing Training Effectiveness of Organizations that Measure Learning Agility

 

The research indicates that 51% of organizations that use the learning agility matrix have more successful training programs as it helps identify the employees’ training needs effectively.   Meanwhile, organizations that do not invest in analyzing their workforce’s mental agility have low training effectiveness of 35%. The Learning Agility Matrix gives insight into which employees can be trained and which skills can be easily trained. This cumulative intelligence assists L&D departments in devising customized development plans that increase training effectiveness.

It is important to note here that since present-day organizations are becoming more complex and dynamic due to a rapidly changing business environment, learning agility has become one of the most desired competencies for recruits and existing employees. Organizations need to assess potential hires and existing employees’ mental agility to ensure that they can keep up with changing job role demands. Job descriptions need to mention that the employee must be capable of ‘upskilling’ themselves and learning on-the-job to manage future job tasks. During job interviews, candidates should be asked to solve problems or accomplish tasks that they have never attempted before to assess their comfort levels in dealing with change.

 


Case Study

About the Client

Mercer | Mettl worked with a leading financial services company specializing in pensions, investments, double counseling, with service offices across South America. The organization has departments such as commercial, customer service and technology, among others. The company encompasses everything from financial security to financial education program, with a specialized focus on various aspects such as multi-affiliation and programmed withdrawal. The client sought a psychometric assessment platform to enhance its HR processes.

Problem Statement

The company wanted to expedite the recruitment process by replacing the traditional pen-and-paper tests as they did not yield credible outcomes and were time-consuming. Additionally, the psychologists took up to five days to deliver the test reports, which delayed the entire recruitment process. Hence, the company needed to adopt a modern and reliable approach.

Solution

The company came across a learning agility assessment during Mercer | Mettl’s demo and liked its exciting elements such as result, people and mental agility. Simultaneously, tools such as differentiator and response-style negated the candidates’ ability to find answers on the internet. With many modules within the learning agility tool, the company found Mercer | Mettl a comprehensive platform with a broad spectrum of tests. The assessment is now used as a filter in the selection process.

Impact

The assessments helped evaluate the opportunities and strengths of the hires. The financial conglomerate also applied this test in developing its existing workforce in conjunction with the talent matrix to identify high-potentials. The learning agility test helped streamline the selection process, influencing both internal and external clients. The process that took around five days could now be completed within a day. The recruitment cycle was significantly reduced to twenty days from about three months.

Also, click here to know how Mercer | Mettl enabled Belcorp to create a future-ready workforce with learning agility.

 


FAQs

What is a learning agility test?

A learning agility assessment test identifies agile learners who lead your organization to success. The Mettl learning agility test is a comprehensive assessment, broadly measuring three dimensions, further mapped to twenty competencies.

Is learning agility a skill?

Learning agility is one of the most critical skills needed to succeed in today’s times. Learning-agile individuals can find an efficient and innovative solution in a novel situation, even when the odds are stacked against them. This skill is beneficial in uncertain conditions. A skilled person can extract relevant information from past and present experiences and provide relevant solutions. One can imbibe and develop this skill through extensive learning and training to positively change the surroundings.

How do you show learning agility?

Resilience, a winning mindset and courage in adverse situations are some aspects that characterize learning agility. Learning agile individuals are incredibly talented and can make a lasting influence as the go-to leaders in urgent circumstances with complex problems and challenging solutions. Some of the learning agility competency examples are: setting an overseas operation, turning around a low-yielding product line, adopting a complex new technology, managing a post-merger integration team, etc.

It’s a rare and valuable talent. These individuals make a name for themselves as the go-to leaders in high-stakes situations, where problems lack clarity, and the solutions aren’t easy to identify, much less to execute. Learning agility doesn’t include a single trait but rather a  combination of behaviors. Learning agile individuals are eager to implement their past and present learning when the situation demands. Most learning agile people have worked hard to develop these skills.

How do you assess learning agility?

The learning agility assessment ascertains which employees have the propensity to learn, unlearn or relearn new things to determine their most prominent traits. In a learning agility test, core elements assessed are – change agility, people agility, mental agility, self-awareness and results in agility. Employees who are flexible, resilient, curious, focused and team players exhibit an agile learning behavior. The Mettl learning agility assessment helps you identify agile learners, who are integral to an organization’s success. It’s a comprehensive assessment that broadly measures three dimensions, further mapped to twenty competencies. This learning agility test comprises three parts – Mettl Personality Profiler, Learning Preference Inventory and Abstract Reasoning test. These sections are crucial in determining a candidate’s behavioral competencies, preferred learning approach, and Fluid Intelligence competency.

How many aspects go into learning agility?

There are five main aspects of learning agility:

  • People Agility
  • Change Agility
  • Mental Agility
  • Self-awareness
  • Results Agility

Each of these aspects can be assessed by Mercer | Mettl’s learning agility assessment tool.

What is the most critical attribute of learning agility?

Learning agile employees exhibit seven crucial characteristics, as mentioned below:

  • They have a heightened state of self-awareness
  • They are firmly committed to self-development
  • They have what it takes to be a great leader
  • They actively seek feedback to improve their performance
  • No matter how significant or minuscule, every contribution is essential for them
  • They enjoy taking initiatives despite the challenges
  • They are change agents

 


Conclusion

Learning agility is among the top skills sought by organizations while hiring and selecting people who can take up leadership positions in the organization. Employees with high learning agility are proven high-performers and high-potentials. Organizations focusing on selecting and promoting learning agile talent are more future-ready and would have a much easier time adapting to technological, skill and business environment changes.

Customized Solutions For Measuring the Learning Agility of Your Workforce

Simplify your recruitment processes with customized Mercer | Mettl's Learning Agility Assessments to ensure that candidates have the required knowledge and skills.

Originally published December 13 2018, Updated August 20 2021

Megha Singh

Written by

A writer at heart, Megha has been in the content industry for 4 years. Starting her career from print, her journey spans across IT, legal and consulting industries. She has been associated with Mercer | Mettl as Assistant Manager, Content Marketing for 2 years.

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