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Learning Agility: How Do We Find Agile Learners?

Wendy Tan

Author, Keynote Speaker & Managing Partner of Flame Centre | Future Skills Institute

Updated on 22 May 2024


Great question!

Imagine if we can recruit agile learners, who take ownership of their learning, learn fast and effectively and pick up multi-disciplinary skills fluently, the competitive advantage an organization gains is enormous.

An organization or even a nation is as competitive as the collective skills it has!

In the past year, I recruited three people and I looked specifically for learning agility. One of the first things I do is to ask them to fill in an instrument developed from my research, measuring learning motivation, attitudes, processes, and environment.

I will be honest with you. In a recruitment situation, people will want to present a more favorable impression of themselves. So I take the results with a pinch of salt, especially when the scores are inflated.

1. Diverse Work Experience

I look at their history for evidence of learning. Here are some examples:

  • Diverse experience across different fields and job roles

  • Voluntary experiences doing work that is different from his job

  • Working in an area that they are not specifically trained for

My research data shows increased variety in job experiences correlates with learning outcomes.

So working in different functional roles across different industries trumps the same roles across different industries. Working in the same job roles in the same industry offers the least variety.

2. Learning New Skills

Next, in my interview, I ask the following questions:

  • What skills have you been learning in the past six months?

  • What led you to learn these skills?

  • How did you do about learning new skills?

  • What challenges did you face and what happened next?

Ask these questions in the natural ebb and flow of a conversation. Through these questions, I am looking for initiative, metacognitive ability, and learning strategies.

Agile learners are resourceful and proactive, they don't wait to be sent to training or nudged into learning.

Instead, they search online, take up free courses, ask for help from others shamelessly, experiment with what they learned and ask for feedback relentlessly. Having a rich array of learning strategies accelerates learning.

3. Level of Self-Awareness

In addition, look for a level of self-awareness of how they are learning; as in they know their own barriers and how they are tripping themselves. If anyone says to me, their challenge in learning is the lack of time, it's a red flag. Who isn't busy with life? Being busy is a lazy excuse. Instead, look for people who reflect deeper. For example, someone told me his barrier is the lack of courage to ask questions and appear silly. Herein lies his salvation, if he can articulate his barrier, he can also help himself.

The willingness and ease in changing one's mind in the process of learning also suggest learning agility.

For example, I once worked with a Japanese young man who decided that people cannot be trusted and treated relationships as superficial transactions. Poor guy, his inability to change his mind meant he could not garner support for his dream.

4. Reflective Ability

Here's another tip, ask the candidate how was the conversation at the end of the interview. If the person says it led him to reflect and articulate new thoughts he did not know existed, perfect! If he says, it is ok or it's a chit-chat, that's another red flag, suggesting the lack of reflective ability.

5. Learning Motivation

Finally, I look for learning motivation, specifically, evidence of purpose.

Initially, it was intuitive to me, I want to work with people with a sense of purpose; people who have an interest in making the world a better place.

But my research data confirms that purpose drives lifelong learning; I learn because I believe what I learn will make a difference.

Look for people who paid a price for pursuing their purpose and passion. This could be spending part of their life on it, forging higher-paying jobs, and taking on additional burdens or stress. However, purpose does not need to be lofty, it could also be as simple as wanting to take care of family and sending their children to a good school.

These ideas come from a combination of my research, interviews with many working professionals of varying levels of learning agility, and actual recruitment experience. I am conscious of the ethical responsibility; I don't want anyone to be wrongly denied of a job opportunity. So let's be clear here, learning agility is one of the many factors in assessing a candidate.

For what it's worth, here is another important data point - age, gender, and education experience do not correlate with learning outcomes.

It does not matter whether the candidate is in his 20s or 50s, male or female, graduate or non-graduate, as long as he has the capacity to learn. Learning Agility is a quality that can be cultivated.

If you think your staff needs to develop their learning agility, check out these ideas on the process in agile learning and how to improve learning agility.

If you think your staff is lacking learning agility, watch out for my next blog!


The information in this blog is based on our research, interviews and experience. We must note that Learning Agility is a skill that can be learned, and should not be the determining factor in job selection. The contents shared here are intended to summarize the qualities of agile learners, and anyone can be nurtured to be agile learners.


If this topic is useful to you, let’s schedule a chat. Feel free to share this blog with others in your network. Thank you!


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