In the Fall of 2015, the community of Columbia University’s Teacher’s College gathered at Google’s Tech Corners in Sunnyvale to honor Dr. W. Warner Burke and his latest work on learning agility. He’s the chair of my Master’s program and a beloved professor to many. It’s no surprise that his visit to the West Coast was a huge draw for us alums, given his influence on students and the field of organizational psychology.
In his signature light-hearted style, he shared with us a new multi-rater instrument to measure and aid in the development of learning agility and its behaviors, providing evidence to support the conceptual definitions presented by DeRue, Ashford, and Myers from University of Michigan in 2012.
Burke presented the two components that define learning agility. The first is skill. In his words, it’s “what you do when you don’t know what to do.” I interpret that as ability, the application of knowledge and learning. The other is motivation, the “willingness to take risk in novel situations”. To me, willingness is the key. Anyone can take risk, it’s whether they ultimately take action that makes the difference. When it comes to learning agility, both skill and motivation are equally important.
Together with his doctoral students, Burke identified nine “clusters” associated with learning agility:
- Feedback-seeking – asking others for feedback on performance
- Information-seeking – the desire to update knowledge and expertise
- Performance Risk Taking – taking on new roles and assignments that are challenging and volunteering for activities where you aren’t quite sure what you’re getting yourself into, but you know you can have fun and learn. (He likes this one.)
- Interpersonal Risk Taking – sharing/disclosing mistakes with others
- Collaborating – working with colleagues from different backgrounds to share perspectives
- Experimenting – testing out unproven ideas and moving on when it doesn’t work out (this includes a tolerance for failure)
- Reflecting – critically evaluating events with others in order to understand what happened (what he believes to be one of the most important dimensions of all – I agree. This is a key mechanism of learning)
- Flexibility – the ability to shift, such as finding common themes among opposing points of view
- Speed – moving on quickly and not dwelling unnecessarily
Prof. Burke pointed out that the last two, speed and flexibility, are the most powerful–meaning that they have predictive ability and relate most to other parts of the assessment.
What’s this have to do with Design of Work Experience (DOWE)? To begin with, learning and the development/use of capability is a key theme of the DESIGN and CHANGE phases of the process. All of these behaviors that demonstrate learning agility are required for the successful practice of DOWE.
Doing DOWE as a methodology is a chance to practice behaviors associated with learning agility in an experiential setting. Chalk this one up to yet another benefit: DOWE develops and increases learning agility.
Reach out if you’re interested in coaching around learning agility and taking the Burke Learning Agility Inventory (BLAI).
“You have to have a certain amount of ability to learn in order to be agile at it.”
“The more defensive one is, the less agile one is going to be about learning.”
“You cannot be an agile learner if you are passive. Learning agility is an active process.”