Unlearning To Learn

Unlearning, oftentimes, is harder than learning something afresh. Unlearning takes more effort because it involves breaking a habit and moving away from behavior with which one previously had positive affirmations.

In the context of workplace learning, unlearning sets the stage by clearing the mind and activating the schemata of the subject at hand. Unlearning eliminates confusion and preps the learning centers for critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving – all of which are essential skills for the workplace.

Unlearning promotes modernization efforts and sharpens the rigors of L&D

Unlearning is the process by which the worker focuses on processes and skills that are thoroughly current, unhindered by outdated knowledge. It is as much a part of learning and development as picking up a new skillset. By doing away with unused or outdated modes of work, the unlearning process helps the worker free up their mind-space. Granted, this is a deeply pragmatic, opportunistic method of approaching work, but it is also the most logical in today’s trends of information overload. Where the worker is able to sharpen their focus, the distraction of previous processes gives way to heightened attention spans. They use this to scope out the most efficient way to apply workers’ hours.

You might also be interested to read: Upskilling And Reskilling: How Companies Must Stay Relevant

Historical milestones where unlearning was crucial to advancements

Unlearning itself isn’t new. Ever since the turn of the Industrial Revolution, the role of unlearning has impressed itself upon the minds of leaders. Six Sigma, which pioneered in the 1980s in the Western world, made its impact on India in the following decade. Workers in the manufacturing sector, and in time in the services sector, learned to improve processing times, reduce defective production, and make quality-improvement an ongoing endeavor. If it started with Fortune 500 companies like Honeywell, Tata Steel and Telco followed it in the Indian context. Unlearning in the workplace at this time involved a wide arena of changes in attitudes to assess quality and outcomes.

In the early turn of the century, when India opened up its markets to foreign players, another shift of attitudes meant the Indian organizational structures were no longer governed by seniority alone. Skill development took the cream of budgets and strategic planning; out-of-the-box solutions were hailed and executed with verve by future-focused managers.

Less than two decades later, India’s corporate structures are in for another overhaul. The prime-mover is now a gig-based work culture where projects keep the revenue going. Task-based work cultures find it useful to collaborate across time-zones and locations – a truly agile approach that calls for more unlearning of traditional workplace mores. Most emails are answered in less than 24 hours, and the cycle of collaboration keeps moving with a set of teams, individual contributors (ICs), and FTE (full-time equivalent) gig-workers – some of whom might be outsourced.

In the three above instances where workplace learning was (and is) necessitated by developments in the industry and advancements in tech, the very first prerequisite is unlearning.

Throughout the unlearning process, unlearning seeks to clarify concepts and strengthen fundamentals, thereby lending additional momentum to the purpose of tasks, job families, and industry-wide metrics. The greatest benefits of unlearning are fully reaped when professionals keep up learning, re-learning, and up-skilling according to the dictates of the business cycle.


  • UNLEARNING IS THE NEW LEARNING | Logic Earth Learning Services | Susan Dumas | Aug 2020
  • Want To Impact Workplace Change? Focus On Unlearning And Relearning, eLearning Industry | Michele. B. Bedved | Oct 2019

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