Reply What is Unlearning LO9864

Tue, 10 Sep 96 16:02:00 PDT

Replying to LO9836 --


I have just read your posting to the list regarding unlearning, and while
I found it very thought provoking as are many of the postings, I'm afraid
certain aspects have left me somewhat confused. As someone familiar with
individual learning (especially in the area of human movement) but
relatively new to the area of organisational learning I have followed the
recent discussion of unlearning with great interest. I hope you or
someone else can clarify my misunderstandings in a future note.

Firstly, you stated that "unlearning is about moving away from something
rather than moving towards something". I'm not clear how one can move
away from something without also moving towards something else at the same
time. Using your example from Indian Mythology if I may; when we "move
away" from one form of bondage are we not also simultaneously moving
towards freedom (or perhaps towards another from of bondage)?

In my experience with children, when we are replacing a dysfunctional
habit, mental construct or cognitive or physical skill we don't remove the
old and leave a vacuum of some sort. We don't have students "forget" how
to ride the bicycle completely and then begin again, we modify
problematic, automated patterns of movement, shaping them to more
appropriate ones. While I can see how the focus could shift between one
or the other (removing the old or building the new) I'm not sure how you
can only do the first and then the second.

This brings me to my second area of confusion. Your referred to the
essence of unlearning as "about 'emptying' and not about 'emptying so that
we can fill it up.'". I think I understood what you meant but then you
described unlearning "as stripping the existing paint off a wall so that
new paint sticks" and "removing the old plants in the farm so that you can
plant again". I seem to have missed the point somewhere, as this appears
to be a contradiction? Also I don't see the purpose of 'emptying the cup'
if we aren't going to "fill it up again"?

Finally, I'm unclear of the connection between the learning of a new skill
such as riding a bicycle with the unlearning of a previously habitual
skill, mental construct etc. Despite your claims, I am under the
impression that complex motor skills such as the one you cite are better
learned by methods such as chaining - the breaking down of a complex skill
into its subskills and adding them one to the next (this is why we put
training wheels on bicycles, so you can concentrate on one facet at a
time) or shaping - the progressive refining of a gross approximation
towards the desired skills. It is very difficult (I won't claim anything
is impossible) to learn a new skill which involves many complex parts as a
simultaneous whole (this is suitable for simple skills only) without any
selective attention to the parts at some stage. I wouldn't claim that
shaping and chaining are the most suitable method for all forms of
learning (unlearning?) simply that I have problems with your example
(maybe I have to unlearn something here).

I sincerely hope I have not come across as critical of your or anyone
else's views. I think that the notions have a lot to offer in our attempt
to resolve the philosophical and practical challenges of postmodernity.
It is simply that I am seeking to understand a concept, that as an
educationalist I am unfamiliar with.

Colin Marshall

Education Department of Western Australia



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