Unlearning to Learn

Learn shutterstock_145364791.jpgDo you ever feel you can’t keep up with all the new information that’s out there in the world even with all you’ve learned over the years? From an early age and as we continue to mentally develop, prior knowledge is held as a fundamental aspect of learning. Especially during the teen years and young adulthood, we accumulate a library of knowledge and skills that we’re supposed to apply to the rest of our working lives. What happens if what we’ve come to know has gone the way of the dinosaurs?

In the words of the recent Nobel Prize recipient Bob Dylan, “The times they are a-changin”. In a world where technology is growing at an exponential pace and the higher education landscape is evolving, what may have been a viable solution years ago could now be obsolete or less efficient. For example in the business office, procedures for financial management services that may have worked during the 2006 school year could still be in effect a decade later but can no longer keep up with your school’s complex operations. This could be the case for a number of reasons, one of them being because that’s the way it’s always been done. Sometimes the “right” way of doing something can turn us away from new, innovative strategies to approach the same task. [1]

As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Well, what if the system in place is broken? How can we change to stay current with the times? One solution is letting go of what you know, especially outdated information. This is known as “unlearning”. Marga Biller, Project Manager at Harvard University’s Learning Innovations Laboratory, defines unlearning as "the process of learning to think, behave or perceive in a new way when there are already beliefs, behaviors or assumptions in place that threaten such progress.” [2] Unlearning requires one to not shy away from experimenting with new techniques to tackle a problem and to aim for progress, not perfection, on the first try.

As human knowledge advances at an unprecedented pace, it’s a different world now than it was twenty, ten, five or even a year ago. Since the inception of the internet, Margie Warrel, a contributing columnist at Forbes, says, “Much has changed since then, including the rules for getting ahead. To succeed today you must be in a constant state of adaptation – continually unlearning old ‘rules’ and relearning new ones. That requires continually questioning assumptions about how things work, challenging old paradigms, and ‘relearning’ what is now relevant in your job, your industry, your career and your life.” [3]

Unlearning is a strategy that can be used in order to adapt and remain relevant in a competitive landscape, higher education. With increased reporting, compliance and management, schools may need to increasingly unlearn the ways of the past.  Familiarizing oneself with new technologies and practices that can make operations in the business office less taxing and being willing to experiment with these alternatives is one way your school can benefit from unlearning.

[1] http://www.nboa.org/blogs/jeffrey-shields/2016/09/30/we-must-learn-to-unlearn

[2] http://www.educationdive.com/news/boston-area-school-embraces-unlearning-strategies-for-students-teachers/424981/

[3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/#1668378e59c3

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