Learning to un-learn 2

Learn unlearn relearnWe learn to talk, we learn to walk, we learn to read and we learn to add, we learn to learn and we stick to it. But at which point do we learn to un-learn? And why does this hurt so much?

It happens often during training courses that participants are extremely reluctant to learning and it took me some while to understand why they act like that: sometimes learning hurts! Moreover, most of the trainers are not prepared to handle the situation.

The formal educational systems are established on the basis of passing the knowledge from the (smart) teacher to the (stupid) student, the students have no choice but following the teacher – mostly because the students have no previous knowledge in the areas they are studying and the teachers are the experts in the student-teacher relationships.

Sometimes, in non-formal education, the situation is the same: the participants do not have previous knowledge so the transfer is done from the trainer to the participants – and this is usually the model of ‘training’ that is being introduced to trainers during Trainings for Trainers.

The over-used Kolb model has this flaw: it presumes that there is no previous experience at the beginning of the learning cycle – therefore no pain and no reluctance.

What happens if the knowledge, skills or attitudes of the participants need not to be provided or developed but to be changed? And changed 180 degrees! This is the main source for the reluctance to learn that often the trainers (and probably teachers as well) are facing quite often – a situation that they do not know how to handle.

One of the learning models that offers an explanation for this process is the Four Learning Level Model, according to which there are four learning levels in which a learner can be:

  1. 1. Unconscious incompetent – the learner does not have the skills or knowledge and is not conscious that he/she does not have them (e.g. You don’t know how to drive and you don’t know that you don’t know how to drive);
  2. 2. Conscious incompetent – the learner does not have the skills or knowledge and is conscious about that (e.g. You do not know how you drive and you know that you do not know how to drive);
  3. 3. Conscious competent – the learner has the skills or knowledge and is conscious about it (e.g. You know how to drive and you are conscious about how you drive);
  4. 4. Unconscious competent – the learner has the skills or knowledge but is unconscious about it (e.g. You can drive a car and you donnot think about the process – it becomes automatic).

To get from level 4 to level 3 hurts participants in a moderate way – they would just acknowledge how they (re)act in certain situations. But going even one level down usually hurts a lot more. A lot!

And going from level 4 to level 2 is a must (un-learning) if a change in knowledge, skills or attitude is needed (re-learning). Because people do not like to be hurt, they become reluctant and that happens unconsciously. Unfortunately for the trainers that do not understand what is going on and why things are not going according to plan. Simple but not easy!

So how do you deal with this kind of pain? Of the participants or of yourself in a learning process?

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2 thoughts on “Learning to un-learn

  • Gabi

    You could almost be a tutor for a course we started last weak. 😀

    The un-learning phase hurts because we tend to think that if something we believed true is not that true anymore… everything else that we know can be questioned. And that makes your self-esteem shake… a little bit.

    You deal with it like with any other kind of pain: you become aware of it, you accept it and you find ways to diminish it. At some point it will hurt less.

  • admin Post author


    – Next time have me in mind:)

    – I just realised that I presumed that you DO want to have the pain and deal with it. What happens if you don’t want to go through that? Consciously or unconsciously?