Saturday, March 9, 2013

Creating the Conditions to Unlearn

I was recently asked "What is the purpose of education?" by someone in my PLN (@carmela_ianni)

In response, I shared the quote (above) from futurist Alvin Toffler.

Carmela's question and subsequent twitter chat lead me to reflect on the idea of "unlearning"

What does it mean to "unlearn" and what should we "unlearn"?

The world is full of examples of  once regarded "truths" that needed to be "unlearned": Pluto as a planet, doctors "unlearning" to use a scalpel to preform certain surgeries, world is not flat, etc.  In fact, a review of the scientific discoveries for 2012 reveal laundry list of some recent "unlearning" in the science community.

How about in education?  I wonder, for example, how effective have we been in implementing what the science community has "unlearned" in terms of how the human brain learns into today's classrooms and schools? (you may want to check out Born to Learn for easily accessible videos and information on brain-based learning)

Nonetheless, when I look around I do see some "unlearning" in education when it comes to pedagogy.  For example:
  • Many teachers are starting to use classroom assessments as more than just a measuring stick of learning.  
  • More teachers and schools are starting question how they recognize and engage students by relying on the science of what truly motivates us as human beings.  
  • Because of the research, many teachers are looking to implement aspects of meta-cognition in their classrooms.  
  • Many teachers are realizing that the Internet is redefining their role as the sole content provider in their classrooms.
  • Many are seeing the need for our children to become more than just vessels of facts and information but rather critical thinkers, collaborators and creators.    
I am, however, starting to wonder, beyond my social media echo chamber, if we are truly approaching a tipping point in educational reform.  Have all stakeholders "bought in"?  Are some stakeholders still unwilling to "unlearn" - wanting instead to maintain what has been in place for decades?

The more I reflect upon the idea of "unlearning", Toffler's sentiments are less about the specifics of what needs to be unlearned (we will continue to uncover new truths that discredit old truths) and more about the mindset that comes with the ability to unlearn.

For example when we unlearn something it requires us to be vulnerable to our own fallibility.

It requires us to be wrong

It requires us to collaborate and be open to others' thoughts and opinions

It requires us to be to critical thinkers and push the limits of our preconceived ideas.

It requires us to "walk a mile in someone else's shoes".

It requires to move beyond the limitations of "I" and move towards the power of "we"

It requires us to persevere in our thinking and our efforts - without threat of humiliation or being labelled stupid

It requires to move beyond superficial knowledge and move toward deep understanding.

Perhaps if we want to see some of the educational reforms that come with "unlearning", we need to start creating the conditions for "unlearning" for many of our educational partners

Still figuring it out.....


  1. Hi Johnny,

    Great post - your reflection was thoughtful and eloquent. I believe unlearning (and perhaps, true learning) happens when we're open to having discussions that force us to be out of our comfort zones. If we always agree with what we're told, is real learning happening? Probably not. That's not to say that agreeing is not important, but being uncomfortable, so to speak, and as a result, really reflecting on where you stand on an issue is crucial on the path that leads from unlearning to relearning. I think what you said about the importance of being wrong and pushing our limits is also very necessary. As always, I really enjoyed reading your post. Your words always leave me thinking....

  2. is it possible for us to unlearn & learn fundamentals of nature through numerical axioms which has shows precisely all hidden/detectable phenomena ? Is it possible to derive all values with precision without arbitrary value or experimental value? explore