Learnability: The Most Important Skill of the Future

Jun 10, 2021

The skill of learnability confers a future value on you by making you agile. It’s a currency that is rewarded with better employability and high growth prospects. Learn why learnability has gained in prominence–and how to develop a flair for it.

Learning no longer ends with school or college. Quite the contrary. The motto has shifted from learn, work, retire to live longer, work longer. Ever-increasing number of adults today are returning to universities to learn new skills. They are working beyond retirement and in different jobs.

The average tenure of professionals at an employer has reduced to just 4.1 years, according to the US Department of Labor survey, as opposed to the “choose a vocation and work for a lifetime at an employer” philosophy that prevailed in the past.

Labor statistics

Hopping jobs is usually neither driven by fashion nor monetary factors, but the desire for better learning, retooling, and upskilling.

Continuous or lifelong learning is a new survival skill. Fear of automation, unpredictable future, or complex jobs, continuous learners are considered best placed to weather it all.

Higher learnability demonstrates better employability which leads to higher career security.

What is learnability?

The desire or ability to grow and adapt your skills to remain employable is learnability. It is more complex than it sounds as it entails going from periodically doing and learning something new to adopting learning as a way of life. It’s about seeking new skills to learn on a continual basis. Eventually, the skill of learnability trains the mind to become agile and makes one better decked with a rich spectrum of skillsets.

As technological innovations accelerate, and individuals (learners and professionals likewise) face a future with scarce knowledge of new professions, embracing learnability as a foundational skill becomes crucial.

“Learnability” has become a priority for individuals as well as corporates. Manpower, a human-resources consultancy shows that the attribute of continuous learning is directly related to well-paid jobs.

Learnability is the key skill. We hunt for Learning Animals.
Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman Google

How can we build a culture of learn-it-all’s as opposed to know-it-all’s?
Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsof

Why learnability is an important skill?

Learnability Skill

The bosses at big tech giants like Google and Microsoft may not agree on many things, but there is one aspect they speak in a single voice on: the major pillar of hiring for the future is to seek out aspirants who are continuous learners.

Individuals who seek out continuous development of their skills come across as active employees who would take ownership of their jobs and make their best efforts to prove their worth. For the same reason, they are deemed more fitting to companies when dealing with unknown or ever-changing industries.

Learnability is an investment. There is an upskilling dividend benefiting companies as they face uncertainties. - PwC Talent Trends 2020

Here’s an example of AT&T. It is an international telecom and media organization that employs over 30,000 people. Being in an industry that changes at a breakneck speed, it faced two major workforce problems: the rapidly changing skill requirements in the age of Big Data and Cloud Computing, and a higher employee turnover on top of that.

It had two options. One to recruit from outside to fill the skill gap, but that wasn’t efficient for a company that must count on retention to successfully work at a large scale. Another was to reskill and upskill its people and focus on retaining those who keep upgrading themselves. Inculcating learnability as a skill was found as the solution.

For organizations, upskilling is also becoming a means to develop future abilities and differentiate themselves.

Not a CEO? What about individuals! The benefits of learnability are immense for individuals. Before developing an organization, it develops people. For students and professionals, the skill of learnability signifies a way of surviving in careers in the changing times.

A Crisis and an Opportunity

What do you teach when over 65 percent of students entering the school today are expected to work in jobs that do not yet exist? The answer lies in inculcating the proclivity for learnability.

The Economist estimates that about 47 percent of American jobs are already at the risk of automation. On the flip side, Forrester reports that over 500,000 new jobs will be generated for developers through the 2020s.

The implications for individuals, schools, colleges, universities, and organizations is one: make people capable of continuing to learn (throughout a lifetime) and adapt to new situations.

The habits of continuous learners

Adult professionals and even students don’t always go to school to catch up on the latest coding developments or other advances. It is a habit of learning that’s encouraged and fed into by self-study, or peer learning that facilitates their earning of new knowledge and skills.

Curiosity is the biggest precursor of learnability. Continuous learners are highly curious and always on the lookout for new learnings and experiences. One can’t ace the skill of learnability without being curious.

Learners Develop

Role of schools and colleges in developing “learnability”

Where can you better develop the art of learning than in the institutions designed for it? While learning comes naturally to humans for, we are curious beings, this propensity may need invigorating from time to time.

Educational leaders from K12 as well as higher education institutions can focus on three dimensions to develop learnability as a core skill.

Three Dimension of Learnability

As mentioned above, encouraging students’ curiosity remains at the core of these three dimensions. The more curious they become, the more driven they will be to the new learning. Some of the actions schools and colleges can take to support continuous learning are:

  • Establish centres of excellence for new disciplines like data science and artificial intelligence

  • Develop continuing education programs for adult professionals

  • Expose students to new environments, and subjects

  • Provide the means – from technology to professional support – to learn more

  • Create an open space for communication and sharing of ideas

  • Schedule visits to and by the professionals

  • Encourage learners to maintain a learning journal

  • Provide tools for self-driven learning

So, what’s your learnability quotient?

If history is any evidence, every time industry undergoes a major change, an education revolution follows to cater to the demand for a newly skilled workforce. Living in a decade marked with continuous technological transformations, we believe there’s a need for more continuous learners who can bridge the skill gap and stay relevant.

Learnability coupled with experience and skills will be the passport to sustainable careers in the future.