5 Questions to improve your Learning Agility

Ramya Lakshmanan
6 min readMar 10, 2018


Few months ago, I read this inspiring article, “How to succeed in the new world?” by Ravi Venkatesan, chairman of Bank of Baroda. In this article, he talks about 3 key things to succeed in life— Positive Mindset, Learning Agility & Managing Self. Under learning agility, this “Learning how to learn” course caught my attention in particular and I subscribed to this free course on course-era. At the end of the course, I understand why I had a liking towards certain subjects / topics while the others put me to sleep. And more importantly it helped me to understand, how I can develop a liking for complex topics.

In this post, I am going to try summarizing my key takeaways from the course and other related posts on how can one improve their #LearningAgility.

Question #1: Has it ever happened to you that you suddenly get new ideas/solutions for a problem or question you have been trying to crack in the recent times while you are driving / exercising / taking a shower / playing or sometimes even in dreams?

Answer: There are two modes in which your brain operates, Focused and Diffused modes. They are mutually exclusive, i.e you cannot be operating on both modes simultaneously. Focused mode is when you learn something with intense concentration. This is how we have learnt traditionally. The other mode, Diffused mode is when you let your mind wander and learn in a more relaxed environment which will help you to come up with new ideas.

Read this interesting article on why you should get past your first thought while solving a problem.

Question #2: Have you observed what happens when you try reading or understanding a brand new concept? What happens if you stop with just reading it once or twice?

Answer: There are two kinds of memory. Working and Long Term memory. Working memory is like a black board, limited space and limited information can be processed at any given time. Scientists say that at the max, you can hold 7 chunks at a time. Long term memory is like a warehouse where your learning is organized and can be picked and brought into the working memory on need-basis.

Essentially, building long term memory is like building your muscle. One day at a time. The more consistent you exercise, the stronger is the muscle. Chunking is a concept of breaking down complex things into small simple ones. It’s like starting to learn alphabets, form words, frame sentences and in the end write poems/novels. That’s your foundation! Again, practice is key to master the concept.

Recall, Bite-sized learning & testing, Interleaved learning — All of these techniques help to build your core, one small “chunk” at a time.

Analogies and Metaphors are again great ways to both learn and teach. Even the most abstract concepts can be explained/understood with metaphors and analogies.

My daughter is 4 and I’m amazed at the speed with which she learns new things. She can recognize flags of 100 countries in <2 minutes. The first time she learnt to recognize the patterns, she could see it everywhere! Cricket matches on TV showing country flags, International news channels talking about a specific country, flag based key chains… Everywhere! And in the next 2–3 times, she was able to recognize it much faster than before!

The key to learning anything new is Repetition and Practice. With every iteration, you develop a new perspective of the same concept. You not only learn what the concept is, but also how to apply it in different situations.

Question #3: Has it occurred to you that you take months to finish that one book you have been wanting to finish or procrastinating some things that you have been trying to do/learn for quite sometime now?

Answer: Procrastination is a habit. And habits can be good & bad. What you need to watch out for when you procrastinate are:

  1. The Cue — How do you feel when you have to do that one thing that you have been procrastinating for sometime now? eg: Your todo list or that complex report or presentation that you have to prepare.
  2. The routine — The habitual reaction or response to the cue. Eg: checking messages on your phone or continue watching that series on Netflix or doing the easier tasks first than the hard ones.
  3. The reward — We settle into habits because it is rewarding, but short-lived. We shift to more pleasant things because it gives us a little pleasure. We crave for instant gratification than long-term results. Eg: Binge watching in my mind could be more pleasant than preparing that complex report.
  4. The belief — To change a habit, one needs to change the underlying core belief.

If you’re learning to play an instrument, you’ll get this absolutely. Every time I try playing a new lesson in the piano, it will be super hard the first time. I quit in a few minutes and as a result it takes months to master a piece.

There are several techniques to beat procrastination. — Pomodoro Technique is one such technique. This is where you work or learn un-interrupted for 25 minutes and then break for 5 minutes. The most important part in this technique is you treat both the working and the relaxing part equally.

Question #4: Has it occurred to you when you think you have understood a concept very well, but get stuck mid-way? This has happened to me multiple times when I have assumed that I understood a concept (without practicing), specially math where I got stuck at a particular step during exams.

Answer: Don’t fall prey to illusions of competence. The best way to test if you have understood the concept well is by applying the Feynman Technique. It’s a 4-step process:

  1. Choose a Concept
  2. Teach it to a Toddler or someone whom you think are new to this concept
  3. Identify Gaps and Go Back to the source
  4. Review and Simplify

I have started to test my understanding by writing blogs ((like I am doing now). It helps me to put a structure to my thought process and recall what I have learnt in the recent past.

Question #5: Have you wondered why learning agility goes down as we grow up?

According to this white paper from Harvard, Learning Agility has three components.

  1. Potential to Learn
  2. Motivation to Learn
  3. Adaptability to Learn

The article states that over a period of several years one develops expertise or competence based on experience. As a result one gets into the habit or routine of doing certain things in a certain way without considering new or innovative ideas.

Every now and then either your role will outgrow you OR you will outgrow your role. #LearningAgility comes handy in both cases. In my next post, I will write about how we at KNOLSKAPE help employees across different organizations develop #LearningAgility.