The power of learning to unlearn

changeThere has been a lot of change in a small period of time in the workplace. Organizations are constantly making changes to keep up with competitors or become the next best thing. Even in industries that used to be steady and stable like healthcare and education, we’ve seen layoffs, closings and mergers in the past few years. 

Through all this change, I’ve seen a vast array of struggles and coping methods. The most interesting to me, however, is watching people try to unlearn things. That’s right, unlearn. The beauty is that those who were able to do it survived some of the greatest changes in organizations. 

Often times, people going through change have a hard time accepting new ideas, new work and new people and that’s to be expected. The problem I see is not so much that they cannot learn new things or that they don’t want to but more so that they have a difficult time letting go of the way things used to be – a problem with unlearning what they’ve known for years or maybe decades. 

While most people struggle with change, I’ve seen a common theme in those who overcome their struggles and it’s the ability to unlearn things. They are able to make connections between what was, what is and what could or should be. They know how to evaluate the differences and determine whether a change is good or bad. Then, they unlearn what they knew previously if they think the new way is better. 

The magic is in unlearning because they aren’t committed to believing that what they used to know is necessarily the right and only way. They can hear the reasons for change, understand it and thus, embrace it – if it’s a good change, of course. These are not easy things to do because it’s natural to gravitate towards the things we are comfortable with rather than unlearning them.

If we all focused on the power of learning to unlearn things when we are dealing with a lot of change, we may be able to better see the benefits of the change. How have you struggled with unlearning and how did you overcome that struggle?


4 thoughts on “The power of learning to unlearn

  1. Pingback: Why I’ll keep working in healthcare | OD Advocate

  2. Hello Lotus Yon,

    You make some valid arguments about how difficult it can be to unlearn something. Learning is such a complex mechanism that many schools of thought exist to explain its process. Consider behaviorism – the study of associations among environmental conditions, events and behavior (Ormond, Schunk & Gredler, 2009). This form of learning is what is engraved in most of us during childhood development. Once we learn something we are conditioned to act or react to a certain stimulus. Yes, as you mentioned, it is natural to gravitate to something because it is comfortable. This could be because learners have been trained to encode problems and use problem solving skills that are hard to erase from long term memory (Laureate Education, n.d.).


    Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Information processing and problem solving [Video file]. Retrieved from

    Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York: Pearson

    Liked by 1 person

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