Creating the Conditions to Unlearn

Originally post on Figuring It Out

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Alvin Toffler

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 perform certain surgeries, world

is not flat, etc.  In fact, a review of the scientific discoveries for 2012 reveals 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 moving 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…..

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