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What Is Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning?


When individuals have the courage to recognize their own knowledge gaps and a willingness to broaden their perspectives and embrace changes, they can truly thrive and grow. The world regularly presents situations that require people to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Consider the demands placed on individuals to shift their approaches to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overnight, office workers had to adapt to virtual communication and workflow management tools, while nurses had to relearn techniques for assessing patients through telehealth.


Responding to changes with agility and an open mind enables people to thrive in a constantly shifting world. This involves embracing a process of learning, unlearning, and relearning.

What Is the Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning Cycle?

Many people are used to a learning process that involves accumulating information and stacking facts on top of one another. While this approach has merit, it also has limitations. It doesn’t necessarily account for the need to adapt as new technologies, methods, and attitudes emerge.


The learning, unlearning, and relearning cycle, on the other hand, requires people to revisit and analyze the relevance of learned information as new information becomes available. Based on these evaluations, individuals may need to discard outdated beliefs and restructure their mental frameworks.

Unlearning Information and Ways of Doing Things

Learning often requires people to unlearn information and ways of doing things. Something as simple as formatting a document may involve unlearning a process after an upgrade transforms a word processor’s interface. Or, new research may present findings that contradict previously held beliefs, thereby requiring a profession to completely restructure a set of accepted practices.


For example, a recent study found that almost 400 routine medical practices go against research published in leading medical journals. To align themselves with current science, healthcare professionals need to unlearn what was once considered conventional wisdom about everything from how to treat pain in emergency rooms to when to operate on a patient’s knee for a torn meniscus.

Reconceiving Knowledge in the Context of New Information

Moving forward and not getting stuck in what’s become obsolete involves reconceiving old knowledge in the context of new information. This entails challenging existing ideas and making space for information that may not fit into one’s existing mental model.


For example, many organizational leaders long held the belief that remote work resulted in a loss of collaboration and control, as well as a drop in productivity. Since the pandemic, however, organizational leaders willing to revisit those ideas will more likely succeed in a post-COVID-19 era in which worker expectations have dramatically shifted.


Nearly half of respondents to a recent Prudential survey of American workers said they’d leave their current jobs if their employers stopped offering remote work options. Additionally, several surveys since the pandemic indicate that a significant number of executives have found that remote work actually increases employee productivity. These examples underscore the importance of adjusting mental models to adapt with changing times.

The Importance of the Learning, Unlearning, Relearning Model

To stay relevant in one’s field, embracing the learning, unlearning, and relearning model is critical. The rapid pace of change in nearly every field, from healthcare to IT to business, essentially demands it. New technologies such as artificial intelligence and automation are reshaping the work landscape, making once-useful skills obsolete.


As a result, many jobs that existed only a couple of decades ago have disappeared, and more jobs will likely disappear in the coming years. On the other hand, new jobs requiring different skill sets and knowledge are emerging. A 2020 World Economic Forum report forecasts that alongside large numbers of new jobs requiring new skills in the coming years, many workers will need to acquire new skill sets and knowledge to continue to perform their current jobs effectively.


Nevertheless, upskilling and reskilling can empower people to find their place in changing employment environments. Learning new skills equips individuals to perform different jobs as old ones are eliminated or transformed. For example, an automated system may eliminate the need for phone receptionists. However, reskilling can allow those receptionists to migrate to other positions in their organizations and remain employed.


Learning additional skills to enhance one’s ability to perform their current job or adapt to changes in their industry also helps ensure job stability and success. For instance, marketing professionals will likely benefit from receiving training in data analytics to increase their utility in a field where the role of data has become increasingly important.

Tips for Embracing the Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning Model

What does successfully embracing the learning, unlearning, relearning model entail? To begin, this model doesn’t involve forgetting knowledge. Instead, it requires avoiding automatic assumptions and reflecting on one’s opinions, choices, and ways of doing things.


The following tips can help individuals adopt this nimble approach to learning.

Challenge Your Confirmation Bias

People have a natural tendency to look for or interpret information that is consistent with beliefs they already hold. This confirmation bias typically makes them less open to discovering ideas and ways of doing things that challenge their status quo. However, learning, unlearning, and relearning requires individuals to reexamine and rethink their beliefs and how they go about their business.


To improve one’s ability to adopt this learning approach, people can work on developing awareness of their confirmation bias. Then, they can seek out opinions different from their own. People can also challenge their confirmation bias by gathering information from various sources and discussing ideas with people from diverse backgrounds.

Develop a Growth Mindset

Individuals who believe they can develop their talents through constructive criticism, hard work, and strategic choices can achieve more than those who think talents are simply innate. A growth mindset makes people more likely to experiment with new ways of doing things, use their mistakes as learning opportunities, and seek out feedback.


These behaviors all support the learning, unlearning, and relearning model. One key way people can develop a growth mindset is through cultivating their curiosity. This means replacing one’s shame or fear about not knowing something with a sense of wonder and excitement about the constant opportunities for learning and discovery that present themselves.

Ask More Questions

Asking more questions adds dimensions to people’s conversations and thought processes. It also helps uncover new information and can broaden one’s horizon. Questions play a key role in deeper learning. People’s ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn is often expanded or stunted by the questions they do or do not ask.

Stay Aware of Changing Trends in Your Industry

People need to make strategic choices when deciding what to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Their choices should align with specific goals, such as career advancement or personal growth. By staying aware of changing trends in one’s industry, for example, a person can gain valuable insights about what new skills they need to learn, what communication tactics they need to unlearn, and what methods they need to relearn.


Reading industry publications, joining networking groups on LinkedIn and other platforms, and attending professional conferences can all help individuals keep up with new technologies and developments in their fields.

Further Your Education

Education offers individuals an excellent opportunity to retool their skill sets. Whether pursuing an advanced degree in nursing or a professional certificate in cybersecurity, furthering one’s education can help prepare people for the latest demands in their given fields.


Through thoughtfully designed curricula and instruction from industry leaders, individuals returning to school have numerous opportunities to reskill and upskill. This can help professionals either forge successful career changes or develop the expertise needed to stay relevant in their fields.  

Stay Ahead by Embracing the Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning Model

To thrive, people need to make space for new ideas and constantly adapt to changing landscapes. Ready to expand your professional opportunities? Embracing the learning, unlearning, and relearning model can help you get the most out of your career. Discover how the bachelor’smaster’sdoctoral, and certificate programs at Maryville University can help you stay ahead.


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