Published in Jan/Feb 2020
As we experience continued and accelerated change in the workplace due to robotics, automation and artificial intelligence (AI), how can we better equip ourselves to upskill and retrain with an increased sense of urgency? How can organizations prepare us today for the workplace of tomorrow?
In “The Fifth Discipline,” Peter Senge stated that the only sustainable source of competitive edge is an organization’s ability to learn faster and better than its competitors. Similarly, individuals need to be responsive to the coming changes and find their place in the AI economy. In other words, we must develop learning agility. By definition, learning agility is the ability to continually and rapidly learn, adapt and apply knowledge in new and changing situations. As learning and development (L&D) professionals, we embody learning and change, and I believe that, while technology is not the focus, it does aid us in magnifying opportunities and enriching experiences.
Here are some suggestions for leveraging technology to become self-directed agile learners:
Be open to new learning experiences: Openness to learning is one of the core characteristics of an agile learner. Openness means having both the curiosity and the willingness to learn in new ways and to unlearn old ways. While technology is often the culprit in putting us in our own echo chambers with adaptive content catering to our personal preferences and insulating us from opposing views, we can also leverage technology to source a variety of materials across disciplines and perspectives. Look for platforms and content providers that give learners control over the algorithm that powers the content feeds. Increasingly, learning systems with adaptive learning functions are designed for user feedback and the ability to diversify content.
Seek timely and constructive feedback: Agile learners take time to reflect on their own experiences. Seek feedback in order to support your reflections, and view it as an opportunity to learn something about yourself. There are many technologies that assist the process of self-reflection. For example, chatbots (in the form of a virtual coach or tutor) can ask probing questions to help you deepen your thinking process. There is even a chatbot designed specifically to support professional reflection processes called Beau – the confessional bot. According to their project study, people gain new insights from the chatbot and are able to approach situations differently in the future.
Create a knowledge co-creation and sharing environment: To learn in new ways requires one to be able to learn from others, to brainstorm and bounce ideas, to get help and support from one’s peer groups, and to build on each other’s concepts. Online communities and information sharing platforms, such as Slack, foster collaborative knowledge co-creation and content sharing. One research study suggests that co-creation and knowledge sharing leads to increased learner satisfaction, trust and loyalty. Co-creation encourages the cross-fertilization of knowledge and is one of the hallmarks of innovation in organizations.
Cultivate an experimental mindset: An agile mindset is about creative problem solving. What better way to work creatively and learn from your peers than coming together to work on issues in hackathons? A hackathon is a design event in which people with diverse skill sets collaboratively come up with solutions based on specific, real-world challenges – all under a tight time frame. Hackathons originated from the software development community but is much more widespread these days. There are hackathons with goals to solve problems from mitigating climate change to reimagining formal education. These events cultivate the mindset of being able to think outside the box, work with ambiguity and to iterate solutions fast.
Learning agility should be part of L&D’s repertoire because it better equips individuals to face the uncertainty of work. We must continue to experiment, incorporate new technologies and platforms, and find ways to scale up.