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The Ability to Learn is a Skill and Peers Can Help

(Last Updated On: August 6, 2019)

“The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.”  Brian Herbert

Searchlight Intelligence for Business Success

Acquiring knowledge and skills, although recognized as the driving force behind competitive advantage, proves to be difficult. Traditional methods, such as sending managers to off-site generic training programs, no longer offer solutions for dramatically changing and diverse workplaces. Adapting to new business strategies, working across cultures, dealing with temporary virtual teams, and taking on new assignments all demand that leaders be flexible and agile. They need to exercise what Howard Gardner calls “searchlight intelligence,” the ability to connect the dots between people and ideas, where others see no possible connection.

The Best Leaders are the Best Learners

In their article “Developing Mastery in a Digital Age,” Kenneth Mikkelsen and Harold Jarche write that:

Leaders that stay on top of society’s changes do so by being receptive and able to learn. In a time where the half-life of any skill is about five years leaders bear a responsibility to renew their perspective in order to secure the relevance of their organizations. It is rarely recognized, but the core activity in any change or transformation process, personal or organizational, is learning… we need leaders who promote learning and who master fast, relevant and autonomous learning themselves. There is no other way to address the wicked problems facing us. If work is learning and learning is the work, then leadership should be all about enabling learning.”

Learning Imperative

Organizations must embrace learning as the key method for gaining competence for their workforce. This calls for a new paradigm in organizational learning that combines understanding employees’ capacity for learning and helping them acquire the skills to become better and agile learners.

Learning to Learn: A Pathway to Developing Learning Agility

Learning agility is the ability to deal with new experiences flexibly and rapidly by trying new behavior, getting feedback on these attempts and making quick adjustments so new learning can be realized in a new situation.

The new paradigm rests on people’s abilities to learn effectively and quickly in the workplace when faced with new and unknown problems and situations. It is therefore critical to help your managers learn how to learn.

Peer Learning Groups and Learning Agility

The peer learning group approach helps managers develop learning agility skills. Learning agility has nine dimensions that aid in learning how to respond in new and undefined situations. They include flexibility, speed, experimenting, performance risk taking, interpersonal risk taking, collaborating, information gathering, feedback seeking, and reflecting.

A peer learning group is a learning team composed of up to six managers in a company. They have the flexibility to select the topic that will help them handle a real job challenge. They meet for 90 minutes to discuss this issue of interest, share their knowledge and collaborate in learning new techniques. During this session, they build trust. The resulting psychological safety allows the managers to be flexible and take risks in trying new ways of handling difficult challenges.

They experiment, practice and reinforce their new learning for 4 weeks. This involves both performance and interpersonal risk taking. During this time, they gather information and journal their experience. They then return for another 90-minute session of reflection and feedback from their colleagues.

Learning is a Social Skill

Learning is a social skill and learning to learn can best be achieved in a peer learning setting. Peer learning in a group of trusted peers who enjoy psychological safety allows the participants  to connect the dots between people and ideas, develop an open growth mindset and create solutions where others see no possible connection.

If you want to move beyond the rhetoric of a learning organization, you must engage your leaders, managers and workforce in learning. They need skills to learn how to be agile and develop searchlight intelligence. Visit http://thepeerlearninginstitute.com for more information.

Peter Korynski                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Chief Program Officer                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The Peer Learning Institute

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