To achieve the vision of the MS2W, post-secondary education institutions must learn to change faster and be more comfortable with change. And learning how to change can often mean unlearning what we have previously learned.
Unlearning to learn is relevant for students, faculty, as well as administrators and academic leaders. The concept can also be applied to a whole department, college, or university that has to adjust and change to new ways.
Anshul Sonak, Intel Asia’s Regional Director for Innovation and Education Programs stated at the recent MekongSkills2Work (MS2W) Network 2nd Leadership Summit, “School, college, work - that pathway is gone. Now it's learn, fail, unlearn, re-learn."
“School, college, work - that pathway is gone. Now it's learn, fail, unlearn, re-learn."
What is Unlearning?
A dictionary definition of unlearning is “to put out of one's knowledge or memory”. Another way to think about unlearning is that is about moving away from something — letting go — rather than learning, which could be thought of as acquiring — holding on — to new knowledge and ideas.
An analogy of removing old paint has been used to help describe unlearning. New paint will not stick unless the old layers of paint can be stripped away. And as anyone who has done this can tell you, the work of removing old paint often takes more work, is more difficult, and more time consuming than applying the new paint. So unlearning is making a foundation for new layers of learning to be gained and most importantly, for that new learning to stick.
Education researchers estimate that up to 40% of what students learn today in post-secondary institutions will be obsolete in less than ten years.
While there is much data and support for an increased need for unlearning in the workplace of today and tomorrow there are few practical tips and strategies. Above all else, unlearning requires flexibility in learning. Unlearning requires rejecting rigidity and being open to exploration of other ideas, options, and possibilities. It not just being focused on the right and the wrong.
Up to 40% of what students learn today in post-secondary institutions will be obsolete in less than ten years
A practical application of unlearning to learn is often seen in the MS2W Network innovation challenge program as well as with project-oriented learning. Both of these approaches to learning require students to test and apply their knowledge to solve a realistic workplace problem. In the process students often discover that their previous learning may not always be useful, relevant, or correct.
Unlearning old knowledge maybe needed to discover a novel solution, and in this way, students learn and acquire new knowledge and skills. The applied nature of the innovation challenge and projected oriented learning provide a powerful framework for students to realize that unlearning to learning will be a required to learn new align to successfully.
Instructors and faculty play a key role to encourage and support unlearning from students. Realizing that previously learned knowledge may now be outdated requires an open and supportive institutional learning culture. Faculty members can share how they have unlearned to learn new technologies and techniques for teaching. In this way the fear and confusion of confronting unlearning is instead replaced by an acceptance and excitement that new learning to be workplace ready in the 21st century will sometimes require unlearning.