While they say you learn something new every day, 2022 might be the year of unlearning. As such, we take a closer look at the learn, unlearn, relearn cycle. More than ever, there is a need to learn and keep learning. But in our ‘always on’ world, it’s a challenge to know what to learn. The concept of unlearning and relearning has never been more relevant.
As the futurist, an American writer Alvin Toffler wrote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
Need of the hour – Unlearn
For many of us, this will sound immediately absurd. Unlearning just feels wrong. After all, we long for new information and rightly avail that knowledge when it comes along. If you’ve worked hard to learn something, why would you want to unlearn it?
Take a step back, and you’ll begin to realize how valuable unlearning can be. You are doing it all the time — likely without even realizing it. That’s just the nature of a changing world. Think of it as a software update. Your devices need constant updates, so why wouldn’t your knowledge?
Letting go of the old and embracing the new isn’t always easy. Professional skills and jobs that were in demand some decades ago are no longer needed. And many jobs are likely to disappear in the next 20 years. Professional fields such as IT, education, technology, manufacturing, and marketing keep reinventing themselves.
Edward Hess underlines that “All learning occurs in conversations with yourself (deep reflections) or with others.” That means, only in being confronted with other opinions and engaging in these meaningful conversations we can understand different ways of thinking and change or adapt it to our mental models. The more we are able to unlearn, the more likely we can learn and grow. Learning new things is impossible without unlearning.
A paragraph from – https://www.samsoyombo.com/starting-growing-you, give this blog a read that dives deep into the perspective of relearning for good.
Acquainting to unlearning
To get a common misinterpretation out of the way, unlearning doesn’t mean dumbing things down or tossing out knowledge for no reason. Instead, it allows you to add more relevant, up-to-date information.
Sometimes, you’ll unlearn small things. For example, I grew up learning that Pluto is a planet. Then, suddenly, we were told that it was no longer a planet, and I had to unlearn that because it was no longer a planet. That’s just one of many examples. As a child, I was told that eating carrots will help you see in the dark, only to find out later when I grew up, that isn’t true. Didn’t we all grow up the same way? Sometimes, you can also unlearn and relearn new skills. Other times, unlearning can mean modernizing your beliefs and values to be more tolerant, diverse, and inclusive when introduced with further information or a new perspective.
Change is the only constant.
In all probability, most of us will face challenges on a smaller scale – unlearning writing 2021 and getting used to writing 2022 instead. It might help to take a second to think back on everything you had to unlearn in 2021 to show just how common this phenomenon is. In the year of unprecedented change and substantial ‘new normal’, you probably had to learn a lot.
John enjoys driving and used to take pride in his driving skills, particularly his ability to park the car. But these days, his car is so smart that it virtually parks itself. An old skill, a source of pride, is no longer needed. For him, that’s not a big issue (he doesn’t make a living out of parking cars). But for many people, they’re seeing their employment skills become less valuable or even completely replaced. We need to be able to continuously learn, unlearn and relearn to stay relevant in a changing workforce.
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”. Thomas Watson, President of IBM, 1943. You may have seen this quote already. It’s a classic example of thinking based on out-of-date knowledge and assumptions. The learn, unlearn, relearn cycle captivates more critical thinking skills, inspiring you to analyze continually, evaluate, and challenge knowledge to ensure it is relevant and up-to-date.
Embrace the cycle of success
Only by continually challenging your own best thinking can you do the essential unlearning and relearning to make smarter decisions as you navigate undiscovered ground ahead.
- Trade cleverness for curiosity – our learning is capped to the extent of our questions. We live with answers to questions we’ve never thought of. So as we consider the problems around, start asking more questions.
- Practice ‘de vuja’ and consult your ‘future self’ – think of a challenge or opportunity you’re currently facing and imagine you are looking at it for the very first time.
- Embrace the discomfort of change – a change, even change for the better, is rarely comfortable. Openness to being challenged – to letting go of what you think you know so you can relearn what you need to know.
- Being humble – best solutions can only be found when we are brave enough to admit we don’t have a monopoly on knowledge and humble enough to listen to others.
This ability becomes easier with practice, so there’s no better time to start training your brain to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Unlearning and relearning are not a means to an end. It’s an end in itself. As such, the key to unlearning doesn’t lie in the teacher. It lies in the student. In you.
Here are our few blogs that talk about Generation Z’s learnings and growth patterns and what makes them so special.
1. State of Learning and Development Trends in 2018 – https://blog.aiesec.org/state-learning-development-trends-2018/
2. How Similar Is Generation Z to The Greatest Generation? – https://blog.aiesec.org/generation-z-versus-the-greatest-generation/21