What is Unlearning LO10118

Benjamin Compton (bcompton@geocities.com)
Sat, 21 Sep 1996 22:06:58 -0700

Replying to LO10106 --

Dr. Ivan Blanco wrote:

> Even after this extensive discussion on unleraning, I still think that
> this notion is a non-existent one. Unlearning seems to indicate to me
> that I must forget what I have learned, or even worse that I have to
> reverse the process of learning. As I followed the discussion, I came
> very close to accepting the notion of unlearning on organization. Then,
> thinking about the whole thing again, I thought that in organizations we
> might find "non-learning" situations, exactly like in individuals. But I
> could not find the notion of unlearning in organization. So far, what I
> have seen in this discussion is more re-learning (improved upon what we
> have learned before, or chaniging old for new ones), but I can't see
> unlearning operating here.
> Unlearning also seems to indicate to me that we must throw out of our
> brains something we have learned before, to put new things in. This
> operates in computers becuase of their limited capacity, but not in human
> beings. We use all knowledge to evaluate new one. In fact, we know that
> new knowledge is good or bad as we compare it with old ones. I may not
> remember anything (should say everything) I have learned in the past, but
> I have not unlearned anything. I think that this ability to use old
> knowledge to define the value of new is one of the attributes that
> differentiates us from other animals, from computers, etc.

Kudos, Ivan!

I expressed my feelings once about the word "unlearning," and I'll do so
again, perhaps with a little more clarity.

I don't get what it means to unlearn. I think it was Thomas Paine who
wrote something to the effect that ignorance, once dispelled, can never be

Four years ago I was a hardcore computer programmer. I worked 18 hour days
hacking out code. A friend asked me to join his consulting business as a
software engineer. From that I accidentally bumped into the LO stuff. .
.and I no longer hack out code.

However, the stuff I've read over the last four years has challenged many
of my assumptions. I have undergone, in a very real way, a profound
transformation. It times it causes me substantial stress (emotional
tension, not creative tension), but on the whole, the pain is worth the

Recently, however, I had become frustrated because I was constantly
integrating new ideas into my life, as many of the ideas forced me to
restructure my value system. I said to myself, "geez I'm tired of doing
this. It wears me out. I'm just going to forget all this stuff I've
learned and go back to the world I lived in four years ago."

Nope, that dog just don't hunt! I couldn't unlearn what I learned; I was
forced to integrate, in a logical way, the new stuff I've learned. Sure,
sometimes I'll discover a new concept that replaces an old one, but that
isn't unlearning, it is what I'll call "clarified learning."

I don't think we ever unlearn -- how could I ever forget how to ride a
bicycle without some tragedy such as a stroke? I think we constantly
clarify what we know, deepen our knowledge, and expand our knowledge-base,
but I don't think we unlearn.


Ben Compton The Accidental Learning Group Learning through Literature, Poetry, Music, Drama bcompton@geocities.com http://www.e-ad.com/ben/BEN.HTM

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>