Tuesday, March 29, 2011


“Learning is about more than simply acquiring new knowledge and insights; it is also crucial to unlearn old knowledge that has outlived its relevance. Thus, forgetting is probably at least as important as learning.” Gary Ryan Blair

I wonder if sometimes 'experience' can do us a dis-service. This might happen when our experience blinkers our view, our doesn't promote our thinking about things in new or previously unexplored ways. Our 'experience' can build assumptions, and sometimes these assumptions can be counter productive to new learning.

What do you think?


  1. Yes! I have always liked this quote: "consistency is a virtue of an ass. No thinking human being can be tied down to a view once expressed in the name of consistency. More important than consistency is responsibility. A responsible person must learn to unlearn what he has learned. A responsible person must have the courage to rethink and change his thoughts. Of course there must be good and sufficient reason for unlearning what he has learned and for recasting his thoughts. There can be no finality in rethinking.”
    B. R. Ambedkar (Indian Politician and founder Of the Indian Constitution.)

  2. I kind of feel that unlearn is the wrong word. Prior experiences can create challenges, but if we are able to reflect on our prior experiences/ understandings and identify the values or purposes that underpins our experiences we should be able to adapt or apply that to new thinking. Unlearning may suggest that we dismiss all that we have experienced previously....couldn't that lead to shallow thinking?

  3. I like your thinking Marcus. A wise owl told me once that being challenged doesn't mean anything unless we reflect. I guess new learning in isolation is nothing unless it is understood, connected and applied to other learning? Being reflective may mean that our thinking is challenged as we grow to make sense of prior learning perhaps?

  4. reflecting on experience and acting on these reflections - when you say that 'experience can do us a diservice' I'm not sure... can you reflect on something that is not an experience or not attached to one in some way?

    If you are interested, the work of Donald Schon is really interesting relating to reflective practices - he talks about reflection in, on and to action. Here's some links which may interest you: http://www.delicious.com/robclarke/reflection


  5. I think our personal experience of contexts such as "school" or "learning" mostly dictate how we create or recreate those experiences for others. In the quote above by Tanya I read that the greatest learning or unlearning comes from our ability to think and rethink why and what we are doing.
    How often do we offer our learners - adult or child this opportunity to rethink experiences and more importantly how often do we truly value the rethinking?

  6. Hi all, some interesting thinking in this discussion. Rob, I guess when I was reflecting on experience doing us a diservice, I was thinking about how sometimes we can build mental models, based on experience, that could potentially stop us being as open minded or innovative in our thinking. Last night, while going for a run, I spent some time listening to an audiobook of Dan Pink's book Drive. One of the things he draws attention to is how many assumptions on what motivates people are in fact not correct.
    If we ask the question, "why do you do that?" and the only answer is, "because it's what I've always done and I think it works" then I think we have an issue. I agree with the point above that the greatest learning or unlearning coming from our ability to think and rethink why and what we are doing. Maybe the word unlearning isn't quite right, it's more to do with reflection, challenging assumptions, being open minded and being deliberate about asking why in terms of our approaches and practices. This is a leadership challenge, supporting people in growing the 'why' but not also forgetting the how.