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What is Learning Agility & How to Assess It

Post Author - Mile Živković Mile Živković Last Updated:

Just a year ago, if you were to ask someone about their proficiency in ChatGPT, they’d stare at you much like I stared at a blank Google Doc when starting this article. That’s how quickly the world is changing these days, and it doesn’t show signs of slowing down any time soon.

Technology, specifically, is changing faster than most of us can keep up with, and the same set of skills that made a candidate a “superstar” in 2024 may not be relevant in 2025. There is one skill that’s helpful in rapidly changing environments, though — learning agility.

To prepare for the future of work, employees need to be agile learners. However, as a recruiter or hiring manager, being able to spot that in a candidate can be difficult. So, here are some tips for assessing learning agility when hiring top talent in 2024 and beyond.

TL;DR — Key Takeaways

  • Learning agility is the ability to pick up new skills and adapt to new situations and environments.

  • There are five key factors of learning agility: change agility, mental agility, people agility, results agility, and self-awareness.

  • Learning agile employees create innovative ways to do work, promote employee engagement, adapt to changes quickly, and improve organizational performance.

  • There are several ways to measure learning agility: using skills assessments, focusing on cognitive abilities, prioritizing adaptable people, and using the Burke Learning Agility Inventory.

What is learning agility?

Learning agility is the ability of a person to quickly learn new in-demand skills and adapt swiftly to new situations and environments. The modern workplace is an agile work environment, and it’s therefore crucial to hire employees with great learning agility.

The five factors of learning agility

As new technologies are launched every day (some of them replacing workers or making certain positions and entire industries obsolete), you’ll need an agile workforce ready to pick up new skills.

By hiring employees with great learning and workplace agility, you’re future-proofing your company and creating an agile business that can withstand changes and disruptions.

What does learning agility mean in the workplace?

Well, first, it’s important to note that learning agility isn’t the same as workplace agility.

Someone who is an agile learner is quick to pick up new skills and technologies and use them in their day-to-day life. Workplace agility, on the other hand, is the ability of an employee to quickly get to grips with new technologies and perform tasks more efficiently and quickly.

For example, an accountant who learns to use new payroll software shows workplace agility; they can save four hours per week by using a new tool. An agile workplace is filled with people, like that accountant, who aren’t afraid of change. Instead, they embrace it.

5 key factors of learning agility

When we call someone a “learning agile person,” there are multiple factors at play.

If you want to foster an agile environment, you’ll need to ensure you’re hiring employees with the following five agile learning abilities — all of which make for resilient employees who help boost company culture and business outcomes.

1. Change agility

Perhaps the most important factor of learning agility in the modern workplace is change agility, which means being adaptable to new situations and leaning into them instead of fighting them.

At its core, change agility requires employees or candidates to have the situational awareness to imagine a new (and often improved) reality and be able to try out a new approach. Instead of backing down in the face of challenging situations, they experiment and get things done.

2. Mental agility

A person with strong mental agility is akin to a cat that always lands on its legs. They find it easy to adjust their state of mind to new situations and circumstances. Instead of being paralyzed by a complex problem, they look at it from a fresh point of view and find ways of solving it.

3. People agility

People agility is the ability of an employee to work with diverse groups of people and not shy away from collaborating to reach a common goal. Employees with people agility value diverse opinions instead of seeing those with opposing ideas as enemies on the opposite side of the table.

4. Results agility

High learning agility means being able to deliver the same (or better results) even in adverse situations. This learning agility factor refers to achieving the same performance levels despite changes in different workplace criteria.

For example, perhaps a sales representative can no longer use cold email outreach because of GDPR rules, but they have to reach the same quota in the time frame of one month. They demonstrate agile learning abilities if they’re able to quickly adapt their sales outreach strategy to hit the same quota.

5. Self-awareness

Although it might sound incorrect to say so, agile learning isn’t just about learning — it’s also about introspection and the ability to understand one’s own strengths and weaknesses. An agile employee is aware of what they can (and cannot) do well, and they’re open to trying new things to make up for their deficiencies.

Benefits of hiring agile employees

Learning agility is an important trait in new hires as it includes a broad skillset that ultimately allows them to stay flexible and test out new things things instead of accepting the status quo.

By hiring these employees, businesses become agile organizations, ready to adopt a new business strategy every time they face a major adversity. If you’ve read or seen anything on the news in the past few months, you’ll know just how important that is and will continue to become to have a competitive advantage.

So, if you’re looking to encourage innovation and boost your company’s ability to succeed, here are some of the most important benefits of hiring an agile workforce.

Benefits of hiring agile learners

Leads to innovative solutions

Employees with learning agility come up with new strategies instead of relying on the same old methods that produce results. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the opposite of their mantra. They try out new ideas and find ways to save time and money in the process.

Improves employee engagement

An agile workplace is one that rewards high degrees of emotional intelligence and fosters employee empowerment. Employees know that in their future tasks, they can go outside of their scope of work to find more effective ways to get the job done. It’s a way to turn employees into future business leaders.

Ability to adapt to industry changes

New ideas and changes in the industry don’t scare employees with high levels of learning and workplace agility. They’re adaptable to new tasks, procedures, and standards and resilient to major changes and challenges in the industry.

Increases operational performance

Besides higher employee engagement, employees with great learning agility are more productive and prone to taking risks. An agile mindset is a power skill that allows them to create and drive high-performing teams and improve productivity across the entire organization.

Highlights potential leaders

Employees displaying high levels of learning agility aren’t just good performers. Their personality traits make these learning agile individuals great future leaders. They don’t just tick boxes; they come up with new business strategies that drive the whole business forward.

How to measure learning agility

Measuring learning agility isn’t always straightforward, as it includes an entire range of skills. However, the best way to assess high or low learning agility is to measure the skills that are relevant to learning agility as a whole. These are some of the most common ways to test for learning and workplace agility.

Use skills assessments to measure specific skills

As mentioned, it’s tough to test for “learning agility” in general, but you can test for specific skills to help you see how agile someone is in the workplace.

For example, you could use a security consultant skills test to determine if someone has fresh ideas and novel ways of thinking about solving security problems.

And if you can’t find a test that works for you in a skills assessment library like the one we have at Toggl Hire, you can always create a custom one for your unique needs.

How to test for learning agility

Focus on cognitive abilities

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, strong cognitive skills are going to be one of the most sought-after categories of skills in employees in the future, contributing to agility in the workplace.

The important thing when assessing this skill, though, is to ensure you understand the difference between cognitive and learning agility. If someone is smarter (i.e. has higher cognitive ability), they don’t necessarily have higher learning agility. On the other hand, you need a certain level of cognitive ability to be learning agile.

In any case, testing for learning agility and cognitive ability at the same time is the best way to cover both areas at once.

Implement skills-based hiring

Prioritize highly adaptable people

When hiring and testing for soft skills, check for adaptability. It’s one of the biggest indicators of how learning agile someone is and how ready they are to embrace change in the workplace.

One way to do this is through skills tests, but it’s even more effective when you assess adaptability in interviews by asking the right questions. For example, you could ask:

  • Tell me about the way you learn from other people.

  • What is a major change that happened in your workplace? How did you adapt to it?

  • How do you handle feedback in the workplace? Tell me about a situation when you received feedback and made changes in the way you behave at work.

The way applicants answer these questions shows you their business agility and how adaptable they may be if you hire them. It’s an easy way to weed out candidates with low learning agility, but only in the later stages of the hiring process.

Use the Burke Learning Agility Inventory

Dr. W. Warner Burke of Columbia University came up with a unique way to measure learning agility — his Learning Agility Inventory. This is essentially a test that grades participants in nine dimensions:

  • Flexibility

  • Speed

  • Experimenting

  • Performance risk-taking

  • Interpersonal risk-taking

  • Collaborating

  • Information gathering

  • Feedback seeking

  • Reflecting

The higher the score on the LAI, the higher the learning and workplace agility. Usually, these employees turn out to be better performers in the long run.

You can also use this test for employee development if you want to boost agility in the workplace among existing employees or to help decide between your top candidates for a position. Another use case for this test is to identify employees who are learning agile so you can promote them from within instead of hiring new ones.

How to create an agile workplace

Although you can test potential hires for learning ability and agility throughout the candidate selection process, you can also work to create and promote agility in the workplace without hiring new people.

Remember, creating an agile workplace that fosters learning agility is a strategic investment in your organization’s future. Here are a few tips for cultivating that kind of environment:

✅ Promote learning agility: Actively encourage employees to be learning agile, which means being open to new experiences, eager to learn from them, and able to apply those learnings in different contexts. This flexibility enables quick adaptation to new challenges.

✅ Encourage risk-taking: Foster a culture where employees feel safe to take risks and potentially fail, as this is an integral part of learning and growth. Encourage employees and business leaders to see mistakes as learning opportunities rather than failures.

✅ Provide new challenges: Regularly offer new challenges to your team. This not only helps to keep the work exciting but also aids in developing the skills needed for the future. A rotation of tasks can also provide a wider perspective of the business.

✅ Offer a flexible schedule: A flexible schedule (sometimes referred to as asynchronous work) allows employees to work when they’re most productive, leading to increased creativity and innovation. It also shows trust in your employees, boosting their morale and commitment.

✅ Offer continuous learning opportunities: Provide continuous learning opportunities such as workshops, seminars, or online courses. This will keep your employees updated with the latest industry trends and technologies, enhancing their skills and agility in the workplace.

By implementing these strategies, you can create a dynamic and agile workplace that promotes learning agility, adaptability, and continuous improvement.

Hire leaders with high learning agility

Every modern workplace should focus on becoming an agile work environment in the (very, very) future. If you don’t have learning agile employees, you can’t create an agile workplace, and you’re bound to fall behind your competitors.

Basically, hiring people with high learning agility is no longer an option — it’s a must if you want to prosper. And at Toggl Hire, we can help you find the very best applicants for your job openings.

With our skills tests, you can find out who has the hard and soft skills to take your company to the next level. Start creating an agile learning culture today and get started with Toggl Hire for free.

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Mile Živković

Mile is a B2B content marketer specializing in HR, martech and data analytics. Ask him about thoughts on reducing hiring bias, the role of AI in modern recruitment, or how to immediately spot red flags in a job ad.

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