The new business world requires self-directed agile learners

The new business world requires self-directed agile learners

May 21, 2018

Authored by: Dr. Karina de Bruin Managing Director: JvR Academy | Counselling Psychologist

The workplace today mirrors the world we live in – a place that has become increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). Surviving in this VUCA world means business “unusual”. People need to adapt and learn faster to accommodate change. They must be self-directed and learning agile to survive.

Self-directed learning
Self-directed learners take responsibility for their own learning, with or without the help of others. They identify their own learning needs, they set their own goals, and they can assess their own learning efforts.

Some people have certain characteristics which makes it “easier” for them to be self-directed. They are often more resilient, focused, original, creative and organised.

This openness to learning cultivates learning agility. Self-directed learners have the make-up to absorb information from their experiences, take time to reflect on it and then apply what they have learnt in a changed or unfamiliar environment.

Learning agility
The new world requires of people to be learning agile. Many jobs change dramatically over a relatively short time period. Workers need to constantly update their existing skills and knowledge and acquire new skills and knowledge to ensure career success.

The time lapse between knowledge acquisition and obsolescence is increasingly becoming smaller, therefore new ways of learning besides formal training must be explored.

The environment (workplace) must be conducive to develop a willingness to learn and offer learning opportunities that are relevant and appealing to learners.

Traditional learning is associated with the “teacher classroom concept” where the teacher or trainer transfers knowledge to the learner. However, organisations can no longer completely depend on traditional training and development. The promotion of self-directed learning may well be the best approach to keep learning aligned with a rapidly changing environment.

Alternative ways of learning are encapsulated in concepts such as “blended”; “just in time”; “on demand”; “drip-feeding” or “dip-stick” learning.

The self-directed learner can identify a specific need that will help him or her overcome obstacles in the workplace. They can “dip into” learning that will propel them forward. The learning is generally “short and sharp” and must be meaningful to the individual him- or herself.

People who realise they keep falling behind, or struggle to complete certain tasks must be made aware of their own learning agility and the fact that they can improve it. Companies with a self-directed learning culture generally have more learning agile workers. These organisations do not fall apart in the face of changes and challenges.

They invest in their employees to become more self-directed and to acquire learning agility. Self-directed and agile learning is not reserved for certain individuals in the organisation. It should be everyone’s responsibility.

Being learning agile does not mean you have to be the Einstein of the company. Many big wins come from small changes.

Measuring self-directedness and learning agility
Organisations should identify the levels of self-directed learning and learning agility in its workforce. There are various formal measures available. These assessments are often available online but can be quite costly.

There are more informal assessments such the 360-degree feedback process where you test your agility in terms of how your colleagues and peers perceive you. Some of the questions you could ask to determine your level of self-directedness and learning agility include:

1. Are you flexible enough to act on rapid change?
2. How motivated are you to learn something new – or do you need someone to tell what you need to learn and how to learn it?
3. Do you ever challenge the status quo to improve systems or processes?
4. Do you only use what is at your disposal to achieve things, or are you looking for innovative ways to solve problems?
5. Do you learn from previous failures, or do you persist with the same way hoping it will achieve your desired results?
6. Are you open to feedback and other ideas people present to you?

Once you have assessed the feedback, you will be in a better position to develop a self-directed learning plan which should improve your learning agility.

Learning is never wasted; however, it should preferably be relevant to the change the learner experiences in the organisation to adjust effectively to it.

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