As businesses respond to a rapidly evolving technology landscape, agile learning has become critical for organizations that want to survive and thrive. According to the 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report, new technologies and business models are disrupting more companies every year. Only 12% of Fortune 500 companies from 1955 are still in business, and in 2016, 26% of these companies were no longer on the list.

The “need for speed” when it comes to learning at organizations is essential in today’s highly competitive world. Learning content needs to be developed rapidly and respond quickly to market changes. Employees need to identify and apply this new knowledge efficiently as well. Speed and flexibility to change are central to agile learning.

What does agile learning even mean?

The concept of agility was first introduced in 1992 with a new paradigm known as Agile Manufacturing by the Iacocca Institute report. Agile manufacturing is the idea that companies can create processes, tools, and training to enable them to respond quickly to customer needs and market changes. Think of retail stores that track the sales of the most popular sweater color. This information is then quickly translated into factory orders for more sweaters in the same color.

Later this concept of agility was incorporated into product development in the technology industry with the 2001 Manifesto for Agile Software Development. The main idea was to break down software development into smaller chunks with constant iteration and continuous improvement. This creates a more collaborative and flexible approach that allows for rapid changes, even late in the process.

Recently, the education and training sector has begun to catch on to the idea of “agile learning design.” Agile learning design is an approach used by instructional designers and training content developers that prioritizes speed, flexibility, and collaboration. This approach contrasts with the traditional lengthy and linear process used by educators and L&D to develop training content. Agile learning design incorporates the same concepts of agile software development—breaking content creation into smaller chunks with constant iteration and feedback to ensure learning responds to rapid change.

But a holistic approach to agile learning is still relatively new to corporate L&D. How can companies infuse agile learning throughout their organizations to accelerate market-driven learning?

Here are 3 ways to build an agile learning environment at your organization:

1. Create an agile learning culture that grows people

If learning is to occur often and continuously, it all starts with your workplace culture. It’s important that you create the kind of culture that enables two key outcomes. First, you must create a safe and supportive environment that allows people to experiment, make mistakes, and fail. It’s in these failures that learning and ultimately innovation occurs. Second, you should create a workplace culture that focuses on truly developing and growing your people. This means assigning stretch jobs, and the learning steps to acquire the skills for this new role. Once an employee masters these skills, then it’s time for them to move onto a new, more challenging job. It’s important to encourage employees to move horizontally within your company and try out new roles. Creating this culture of growth will help your employees constantly learn and think out of box—enabling them to adapt and transform your business, product, and process. If your employees grow, your business will grow too. (See What a Workplace Culture that Truly Develops People Looks Like).

2. Let go of control and advocate for self-directed learning

In a world of agile learning, it’s impossible for in-house L&D teams to guess and predict every employee skill need that might arise. Instead of investing time and money into creating more courses, take a more agile learning approach and curate content from external learning resources. This allows for a bottoms-up approach to learning— employees can find the course that’s right for them, right when they need it. This “pull learning” approach is central to an agile learning environment as it lets employees learn what they want, when they want.

3. Rely on external learning resources that are market-driven and updated in real-time

L&D departments don’t have the resources to stay on top of every change in every industry for every job. Instead, you need to identify and rely on external learning resources that take the pulse of the market and are updated in real time. For example, if Apple releases a new iOS or Google announces a new search engine optimization (SEO) algorithm, a new or updated course needs to be available for your developers and digital marketers in a matter of days, not months. An agile learning resource ensures your employees will always be able to do what’s next in a rapidly changing world.

For more ways to build an agile learning environment at your organization, download our latest ebook: Reinventing L&D with Agile Learning: 5 Ways to Build an Agile Learning Environment.

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