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Learning and Development | 4 Min Read

Learning Agility: The Key Competencies Needed to Develop a Learning Mindset


Learning agility is the most critical skill needed to succeed in a career or business. If you search the term ‘learning agility,’ you will come across information suggesting that ‘learning agility is the key for leadership success’ or ‘learning agility is the defining feature of a high-potential.’ But if you are starting your career, ‘leadership’ or ‘high-potential’ is usually not on your ‘to do’ list for the next few years. What does the term ‘learning agility’ then mean to you? If it doesn’t, it’s a major problem!

If you aren’t an agile learner, your chances of succeeding at your job or business are reasonably low, even if you are a fresher starting your career.

The importance of learning agility is exemplified by management consultants who must understand and develop expertise in any industry in a short span and advise people working in the domain with decades of experience on how to solve business challenges and meet goals.

The lack of learning agility can significantly impact your growth prospects. For example, when a journalist is asked to write blogs, instead of news articles on current events, after considering search engine optimizations, keyword usage and ranking, they must develop an entirely new mindset for digital media writing. They are expected to unlearn the old ways and mold their writing acumen into the current media demands. An agile learner will view such a situation as an opportunity to upskill themselves in SEO, blog writing and Google Ad Words, etc. 

In contrast, a person with low learning agility will struggle to remain relevant in the digital media ecosystem with their limited skills, for the lack of learning agility. 

Some of us are born as better learners and adopt more effective ways of completing tasks without realizing it. But if ‘learning’ or ‘change’ lies outside of your comfort zone, it’s time for self-reflection.

This blog examines the learning agility model and competencies needed for a person to be defined as a ‘highly agile learner.’

Learning Agility of a person depends on two components:

  • Their ability to learn: This depends on their cognitive intelligence
  • Their intent to learn: This depends on their behavior and personality


These competencies determine whether a person has low, medium or high learning agility.

  • People with low learning agility lack abilities and the willingness to learn
  • People possessing a medium level of learning agility lack either skills or intent, but not both
  • People considered highly agile are extremely capable of learning and also possess a zeal to learn

But it can be debated if ‘ability’ supersedes ‘intent’ or vice-versa. We have categorized the competencies needed to be learning agile in a three-tiered model, known as the learning agility model, for a more comprehensive understanding.

What Is The Mercer | Mettl Learning Agility Model?

This learning agility model is based on extensive research that includes a literature review from peer-reviewed journals and qualitative data collection and interviews from subject matter experts (SMEs). The Mettl learning agility model is a three-stage model where competencies are divided into core, primary and secondary competencies. The model, the competencies and their definitions are mentioned below:

Mercer | Mettl learning agility model

According to the learning agility model, fluid intelligence is the core element of learning agility. Individuals scoring high on fluid intelligence can quickly identify patterns, logical rules and trends in new data, integrating the information and applying it as required.

Primary elements of this model include inquisitiveness, open-mindedness and a drive for mastery. Being inquisitive determines the extent to which individuals are broad-minded, curious, imaginative and original. Similarly, open-minded individuals actively seek new and varied experiences and ideas and are typically more receptive to learning new information. Lastly, the drive for mastery represents a dynamic approach to gain in-depth knowledge and the desire to become a subject matter expert in learning.

Perseverance and organization are also considered secondary but essential elements of the learning agility model. People high on focus and determination learn quicker than the others – they prioritize and act. Being high on planning and organization facilitates faster learning as individuals are able to develop a framework or strategy to accomplish the learning tasks or goals.

Assess Your Level of Learning Agility

You can determine your level of learning agility based on the Mettl Learning Agility Model. But it is essential to determine if your learning agility demand matches that of your job role. Organizations need to measure their employees’ learning agility levels to determine if they are a perfect fit for their present jobs and the future roles that they can take up.

Assess Your Level of Learning Agility

To determine the quantum of learning agility demanded by any job role, we have created the ‘Mettl Learning Agility Matrix’ that defines the learning agility demand of any job role based on industry volatility and role novelty.

By accurately measuring employees’ learning agility level and the learning agility demanded by their roles, companies can improve and leverage their workforce’s learning agility to achieve business success in the present and also be future-ready.

The Three Dimensions of Learning Agility

The learning agility of a person is determined by how quickly they can learn new things. For example, if a content writer with no technical background knows data analytics and coding, they can be considered an agile learner. An individual must be able to grasp completely new concepts and be passionate about continually learning new things to be an agile learner. 

Jack of all trades or a master of one? You can be both!

Learning dimensions are attributes that define an individual’s learning ability. Some individuals can learn fast, while others can learn various things or develop expertise in a particular subject. Knowing an individual’s learning dimensions can help organizations define the employee’s career path and trajectory.

Learning dimensions are attributes that define the types of learning that an individual is capable of. Some individuals can learn fast, while others can learn a variety of things or develop expertise in a particular subject.

Speed of Learning

Gauges how quickly a person can learn.

Variety of Learning

How oriented is someone towards learning varied subjects/topics.

Depth of Learning

How oriented is someone towards gaining deep comprehension of concepts & its application.

Learning agility is a mix of speed, variety and depth. Every job requires a specific combination or mix of these three dimensions of learning agility.

For example, stock market traders must have high learning agility as they need to analyze vast amounts of data in a short time. They also need to have in-depth knowledge of trading rules, etc. They are also required to know varied subjects, such as socio-economic conditions, events and factors that may impact stock prices. Hence, they can be successful only if they are capable and willing to learn in detail about a wide variety of subjects in a short time.

Who is your best friend? Books or Teachers or Google?

Everyone has a preferred way of acquiring knowledge. Some individuals prefer classroom teaching so that they can interact; others like to read on their own. When training employees to upskill or reskill them in organizations, it is essential to know their preferred learning mode. This knowledge increases the ROI from L&D initiatives and also contributes toward creating a more future-ready workforce.

There are three types of preferred modes of learning: self-learning, classroom learning and mentor-based learning.

Self-Learning includes learning through resources, including books, classes and e-learning sources.

Classroom Learning includes learning from instructors in a formal classroom setting.

Mentor-based Learning includes learning from others with experiences, such as mentors or coaches.

Learning preferences are continuous, not exclusive categories. Dominant learning preference is more often a way of acquiring information from various sources during learning situations. The purpose of knowing employees’ learning preferences is to suggest the most effective way by which organizations can maximize their learning by customizing the learning intervention as per their preference. It is well-known that most employees learn the most from on-the-job experiences than from classrooms or course-based learning. Also, an essential source of knowledge is establishing relationships with others – networks or mentors.

Once an organization knows about the learning agility level, dimensions and the learning preference of its workforce and talent pool, it can hire and train better and, therefore, grow faster. Learning agility is the strongest indicator of an individual’s/ employee’s potential to succeed in their present and future job roles. This is because learning agile employees are extremely adaptive to change and can easily tackle new problems and situations. An agile workforce is needed to sustain and increase an organization’s present and future productivity.

What is the most crucial attribute of learning agility?

Learning agility is the ability to act effectively in unforeseen situations. Learning agile among us can gather knowledge from past and recent events in a manner that helps them stay abreast of an ever-changing world. They try not to let the pain and discomfort bother them and develop effective habits based on new experiences. This ability impacts a person’s behavior and performance at work. Listed below are some critical attributes demonstrated by learning agile individuals:


Self-awareness forms the basis of learning agility. A self-aware person identifies their strengths and weaknesses, whereas a person lacking self-awareness may fail to pinpoint their weaknesses. Individuals who know their shortcomings are willing to self-improve to enhance their skills and abilities.     

Willingness to improve

An agile learning professional is dynamic and resilient, whatever the external factors, and is well-aware of their development needs. Despite the budgetary allocation for assessments and development plans, all efforts can go in vain, unless an employee is willing to invest time and effort in personal development. The success and effectiveness of training initiatives depend on an individual’s learning agility.

Future leadership roles  

Learning agile professionals can grow as leaders and is crucial for the organization’s succession planning strategy. An individual’s level of learning agility can be referred to as the willingness and perseverance to grow within the organization. 

In contrast, personality, cognitive and competency tests delve into an individual’s skills, behaviors and abilities. People with high learning agility levels are well-suited for senior roles and can impart learning agility skills and values to their subordinates. 

Providing valuable feedback 

Learning agility entails finding new ways to do something better. Moreover, both positive and negative feedback are crucial for improving employees’ performance. This feedback is beneficial, and the information can provide valuable inputs for self-development and growth. 

Valuing contributions

Perfect teamwork is critical for achieving success. In a team, learning agile individuals will embrace diversity and accept different opinions. They encourage mutual participation and value others’ contribution, without disapproving of their ideas. They admit mistakes and dismiss their views if at fault and try to learn from others’ advice.

Taking initiatives

With a strong will to achieve and succeed, learning agile employees are always keen on initiating new projects. They never slow down the pace of their initiatives even if there isn’t a formalized development plan available for the same.

Change agents

Learning agility is all about dealing adequately with the change and helping others develop such a characteristic. In this context, learning agile change agents take on essential management and leadership roles to enable organizations to become more agile than ever. In today’s competitive marketplace, chances of success increase by proactively embracing change and not reactively reciprocating the consequences of change.

How Mercer| Mettl Can Help

The two core aspects included in Mercer| Mettl’s learning agility solutions are learning agility assessment and learning agility matrix. 

Learning Agility Assessment

Learning agility tests accurately and efficiently measure learning agility when finding customized solutions to measure your workforce’s learning agility. Learning agility tests assess learning agility and orientation. Upon completing the assessment, Mettl’s learning agility test report helps you understand individuals’ learning agility levels, learning dimensions and preferences.

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

This comprehensive assessment is used for:

  • Creating a talent pool to identify high-potentials (including early career and 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 expected to succeed in overseas tasks

Learning Agility Matrix

Mercer | Mettl’s Learning Agility Matrix

Mercer | Mettl’s Learning Agility Matrix measures an individual’s/company’s learning agility and provides actionable insights needed to improve an organization’s performance and productivity. Organizations require employees with different levels of learning agility. Mettl Learning Agility Matrix identifies the learning agility demand for multiple industries, organizations and job roles. There are four learning agility categories based on the permutations and combinations of learning intent and ability: average, enthusiastic, latent and high-potential.

Using the Mettl Learning Agility Matrix you can

Use the Mercer | Mettl Learning Agility Matrix

To sum up, you can use the learning agility matrix to:

  • Measure and improve your organization’s learning agility
  • Create a future ready workforce
  • Evaluate organizational learning agility and quickly ascertain whether a learner is average, enthusiastic,  latent or high-potential.

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

FAQs: We have listed the answers to some underlying concerns people typically have about the learning agility model.

Q.  What is meant by learning agility?

A. Among newly graduated millennials, who will be facing a short skill shelf life of only three years, learning agility becomes a necessary competency. The rate of change faced by most businesses is very high. Hiring based on past accolades is not a guarantee of employee success, and HRs may regret they did not assess the talent’s learning agility before hiring.

Q. Why is learning agility necessary?

A. An agile person can perform significantly better in unfamiliar situations, respond to events decisively and proficiently, solve problems by taking cues from past experiences and exhibit high creativity. Those who can cultivate and nurture this ability are highly efficient at work and can develop unique, useful solutions to address key problem areas and excel in their career.

Q. Is learning agility a skill?

A. Learning agility is one of the essential skills needed to succeed in a career or business. It is the ability and inclination to leverage past experiences to perform immaculately in unfamiliar situations by gaining critical abilities.

Q. What is a learning agility test?

A. Learning agility assessments are designed to identify and develop high-potentials with the utmost ease. A learning agility test is based on two major components, i.e., the orientation to learning and the ability to learn.

Q. How do you demonstrate learning agility?

A. According to the researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University, and the Center for Creative Leadership, four identified behaviors demonstrate learning agility:

Innovation-oriented: This behavior is exhibited by a tendency to question the status quo and defy deep-rooted assumptions to find unique and effective ways of performing tasks. Innovating includes creating new experiences that provide a fresh outlook and an enhanced knowledge base. Learning-agile individuals come up with new ideas with their prowess in viewing issues from multiple points of view.

Performance-oriented: Experiential learning is beneficial when an unfamiliar challenge is evident. But learning from challenges can only occur when an individual is actively engaged, able to tackle ambiguous situations and is adaptable to change. This mandates meticulous observation and listening skills and an individual’s ability to perform data processing quickly. Learning-agile individuals can grasp new skills faster and utilize them better than their less agile peers.

Risk-taking ability: High learning-agile individuals are not risk-averse. They are pioneers who’d like to venture into uncharted territories. They tend to take calculated risks, not from a thrill-seeking perspective but an opportunistic point of view.  They prefer to get included in jobs with equal chances of success and failure. They can thrive outside of their comfort zones and work continually on their holistic development.

Growth-oriented: Having new experiences does not ensure one will learn something new from them. However, learning-agile individuals are feedback-seekers and good at processing information to work on their past assumptions and behavior. They are insightful and propose the best solutions to their problems. Individuals with a high level of self-awareness may work their way up through the organization to take C-suite roles.

Q. Why is leadership agility necessary?

A. Leadership agility is the ability to make excellent and worthwhile decisions in a fast-changing world. It’s a combination of essential skills crucial for organizational success. Leadership agility determines the best way to move forward, including the most suitable means to inspire teams within an organization, convert thoughts and ideas into action, and perform an adequate evaluation to determine outcomes.

Q. How many aspects go into learning agility?

A. There are five main aspects of learning agility: Mental Agility, People Agility, Change Agility, Results Agility, and Self-awareness.

Q. What is intellectual agility?

A. An intellectually agile individual is always progressive and keen on replacing old thinking with new, compelling ideas. They continually seek new information channels and devise solutions to existing and unforeseen problems.

Q. What is agility in the workplace?

A. An agile workplace embraces and adapts to the transformation. Employees have shifted to remote working during the ongoing pandemic. The agility in a workplace ensures that employees’ productivity doesn’t diminish after these changes. Agility supplements employees to work from any place, anywhere and anytime, without affecting their efficiency and productivity.

Q. Is agility a competency?

A. Learning agility is a competency that describes a person’s orientation and speed to learn. In most organizations, this skill is regarded as one of the most crucial factors in successful leadership.

Q. What is strategic agility competency?

A.Strategic agility refers to the ability to promptly and adequately respond to or drive a positive change while maintaining focus and flexibility.

Originally published February 20 2019, Updated March 24 2024

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About This Topic

Learning agility is the ability and willingness to learn quickly and easily and incorporate new learnings in daily and first-time tasks. Learning agility is among the most wanted skills in employees in today’s fast-changing work environment.

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