Written by 8:00 am Digital Focus, People Focus

Learning Agility: What it means to Unlearn and Relearn


Learning Agility: What it means to Unlearn and Relearn

The world we’re living in is evolving at an accelerating pace, that is making change a constant in our lives.  Digital developments have made us hyper-connected to our family, friends, information and opportunities and automation technology augmenting or replacing labour intense, repetitive processes.   And it’s not only the Digital ecosystem and Technology driving change, we are also living longer, with 1/3rd of people born in 2012 predicted to live to a 100, meaning our working years have been extended.

Our learning and development, on the other hand, has not accelerated at the same pace, presenting a skills deficit in meeting current and future workforce demands. The traditional learning model of dedicating a couple of years at a Tertiary Institution feels insufficient to prepare us to remain relevant in a job market in a constant state of change. So how do we prepare?  Your ability to unlearn and relearn has become an essential tool to keep up with constant change.  And it’s not as far removed from your life as you think.  Have you switched from a Nokia to a Samsung to an iPhone?  That required learning Android OS, unlearning Android OS and re-learning IOS.

What is Unlearning and Relearning

We learn to improve our knowledge, acquire new skills, to solve problems, to become more independent and to improve how we do things so we can reach our fullest potential.  

Unlearning is the process of letting go of what we know and giving way to new ideas.  It’s our ability to choose an alternative mental model.  Mental models are the thinking tools we use to understand life, make decisions and solve problems.   By learning a new mental model we give ourselves a new way to see the world.  

Relearning involves proactively working to expand and diversify your skillset to remain relevant, and competitive in an ever-changing landscape.

Why we need to Unlearn?

If we don’t adapt to external changes, we run the risk of becoming redundant, falling behind or missing out on opportunities. 

We get passed over for a promotion or challenging work opportunity because our mental model has become outdated or obsolete, yielding the same results that are no longer relevant in an environment that has changed.  

And whether you like it or not, Technology will force you to evolve faster than you may want to.  Algorithms are getting far more sophisticated, able to read through a legal document and pick out errors and Robot Nurses now perform tasks such as dropping off specimens for analysis at a lab.

How to get started?

We have forever focussed on the importance of learning, as a foundation for success and opportunities.  The unfamiliar and unknown part is our ability to unlearn, this requires us to turn inward, to evaluate our existing mental models and make a conscious decision to work outside of them.  Mark Boncheck outlined the process of unlearning in his article ‘Why the Problem with Learning Is Unlearning’ as:

First, you have, to recognize that the old mental model is no longer relevant or effective

Second, you need to find or create a new model that can better achieve your goals

Third, you need to ingrain the new mental habits

Once you’ve mastered the art of unlearning and becoming aware of mental models that no longer serve you, turn to relearning.

Relearning takes place in a number of ways. You can decide to specialise further in your chosen field, learning more about new shifts in the industry and how to leverage them. You can decide to go broader in your learning channels, discovering and learning about new areas of life and business that could help you see new solutions in your current career. The most obvious example of this is how engineers study nature to understand how to better design their own structures. This is also sometimes known as “analogical problem solving”.

The availability of resources for learning is at an all-time high. Mobile, social, and cloud technologies are reinventing how we learn, adding more flexibility and independence to the experience.  Leverage a mix of formal and informal sources to foster a culture of lifelong learning.  Subscribe to Podcasts, choose from 4.5 billion hours of ‘How To’ YouTube Educational content or subscribe to one of the education channels (Khan Academy, Smarter Every Day, Ted-Ed or Crash Course to name a few). For a more formalised approach Coursera, Udemy, Lambda School and Future Learn are a few massive open online course (MOOCs) providers.

The biggest challenge in relearning and unlearning seems to be the ability to make decisions about what mindsets to keep and which to let go of. Where to learn and relearn and finally how to hold multiple mindsets in play without becoming blindsided and operationally ineffective.

To hit the message home one more time, renowned futurist Alvin Toffler says “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

Tags: , , Last modified: March 23, 2020