Unlearning: Is it a thing?

I keep coming back to this idea of unlearning. Some of my colleagues say there isn’t such a thing – it is all part of the learning process. I have a different viewpoint. Unlearning is a critical skill needed for us to survive as individuals and as a species. It is a deliberate act that seeks to make changes to our thinking, our actions and our being. In a world of great uncertainty where pandemics, extreme weather patterns and climate change are accelerating we need to sit back, reflect and take deliberate action. That is, we need to unlearn.

So in this short post I want to share some of my thoughts:

  • Learning is lifelong, education is formal and school is a small segment of education. Learning helps us to adapt as we tread the pathway of life.
  • Stress makes learning more difficult and wellbeing is a foundation from which good learning happens. That’s not so easy right now.
  • Learning involves constant change and rethinking. That’s why any conversations about the future of work are always embedded in the future of learning.
  • Things are easier when we have practised them. We have to think less because our brains recognise patterns.
  • Unlearning, in my opinion, is when we deliberately seek to change entrained patterns. It is focused and challenging. It is easy to give up.
  • Once we have unlearned we have the opportunity to relearn a new way.

Leading expert on learning and the world of work, Heather McGowan, describes the importance of letting go of your expertise and cognitive biases as follows:

Changing direction often involves letting go of old methods, unlearning, and relinquishing your occupational identity and your position as an expert.

The book she co-authored, The Adaption Advantage, is one of my most recommended books of the year so check it out.

Another example of intentional unlearning can be found in this example of trying to ride a backwards brain bicycle. It is definitely worth watching this video until the end.

Will we use this time of lockdowns and global challenges to unlearn our deeply entrenched patterns of behaviour? If we want to have a positive future it is critical that we do so.

Being uniquely human means using our great strengths while still listening to the murmurings of our planet.

So this is just a short post, ideas half formed and simple, to start the conversation. I am really interested in your ideas. What do you think?

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