When it comes to developing yourself, it can sometimes feel like you’re swimming in an ice-cold, deep reservoir (think Lake Windermere in December).

We dive in, head first, paddling about to stay above the surface, sometimes gasping for breath, getting distracted by shiny things on the edges of the water.

At work, we don’t always know what’s going to happen or when we’ll need to learn a new skill. Does this sound familiar: “We’re really struggling to be productive, so let’s send the team on a time management course” or “All the presentations I’ve given this year have been terrible! Maybe I need to learn how to improve.”

It’s like we’re diving in to the water to put out the fire that has suddenly started and then we feel the shock of the water as we’re flung in to learning about something we wished we’d learnt ages ago. We can have a tendency to operate under the illusion that life remains constant, steady and in our control – which, if we’re honest, is far from reality. The water suddenly seems murky and the current changes – meaning our choices aren’t always the best ones when it comes to self-development.

Anyway, enough of the metaphors – let’s discuss this in plain English.

What’ I’m talking about is learning agility.

Agile is a word we’re hearing a lot in business right now relating to project management and also leadership (I’ve even blogged about it!). So why not jump on the ‘buzz word band wagon’ and consider agile learning as an idea? Learning agility is described as “the capability which describes a person’s speed and willingness to learn, that allows them to stay flexible, grow from mistakes and rise to a diverse array of challenges”. Or you could say, it’s the term used to describe those best equipped to learn the most from their experiences.

In today’s work environment there is an increasing demand to master our ability to adapt and learn. Historically we have spent time creating development journeys aligned to specific plans or roles, but this doesn’t cover the things that we want or need to learn that aren’t in the plan. So what can you do to be more agile in your learning, rather than waiting for your learning needs to appear on a plan?

Increase your emotional intelligence

Being able to be an agile learner depends a certain amount on your current levels of emotional intelligence.

In their 1990 article, researchers Peter Salovey and John D. Meyer defined it as ‘the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions’.

The better you know yourself, how you think and operate and what your ‘hot buttons’ are, the more you are likely to identify where you need to or want to develop.

Seek out experiences to learn from

Do you seek out problems and challenges as a way to experience something new and learn or do you shy away from them? When we experience new things we create new neural pathways and the more we do the ‘new’ thing, the less it becomes new and the more engrained the neural pathways become, meaning what was once a challenge is now just the norm.

Take time out to reflect

Having new experiences doesn’t guarantee you will learn from them. Seek out feedback and process the information you’re given as this will help you understand your own assumptions and behaviours.

Be resilient

Learning from experience occurs most often when we’re overcoming an unfamiliar challenge. But in order to learn from these challenges, we need to remain engaged and handle the stress of the uncertainty or ambiguity – this will allow us to adapt quickly in order to perform. We need to observe and truly listen so that we can process data quickly.


Really challenge your beliefs around learning. Many people still believe you need to ‘go on a course’ to learn but how about all the other ways you can support what you learn on a course, or ways you can learn from a virtual perspective? Look for new ideas that provide learning from different angles. If you do the same thing all the time it gets boring!

Whatever your view, the evidence that supports learning agility is growing: long-term success in a role seems to depend largely on a readiness and ability to learn, namely because it enables us to acquire new behaviours quickly and effectively, which ultimately enables adaptability and resilience.

Related blogs:

Learning for life