The pandemic changed how businesses look at educating their workforce. At the start of the pandemic, organizations needed their employees to learn new skills and learn them quickly. They would not be working in the office anymore, so they had to learn new routines for working remotely. What many businesses discovered is this was harder than they expected. This guide will discuss what is wrong with our learning model, what “unlearning” can teach us, and how you can apply that knowledge to your organization.
Why does the old learning paradigm fail us?
Businesses discovered that they were spending many more hours than they expected educating their employees on how to work remotely. Many of the employees were tech-savvy and had used Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms before, but the issue was the same. People had trouble adjusting to the new routine, but the question was why?
Part of the problem is our idea of education. Most of our current information systems are based on the premise that we have a deficit of knowledge and that training will fill us with new knowledge. The truth, however, is we don’t start with a blank slate. Instead, we start with some idea of how to do our job and to learn something new. We have to shift away from the old way of doing things. Our brain does not like this. The concept of replacing an old way of doing something with a new, improved method is called “unlearning.”
Why is unlearning so difficult?
There are two reasons unlearning is so difficult. Firstly, human brains have evolved to master certain techniques. Perfecting and becoming automatic at a particular skill was highly useful in the past. It meant humans could perform tasks more efficiently and therefore benefited our survival. Secondly, the human brain has not kept pace with the rapid change we see in the world today. Historically, there was less need to unlearn as the pace of change was not as volatile. Nowadays, skills that were helpful only a couple of years ago are already out of date. Hence, when we try to keep up with this constant change, we struggle.
A great example is this YouTube video showing American Engineer/ Science commentator Dustin from “Smarter Every Day” learning a new skill: riding a backward bike. Engineers had constructed a bike that worked perfectly, but in reverse, when you moved the handlebar left, your wheel went right, and when you moved it right, the wheel went left. What he discovered is his brain would not let him ride it. His old way of riding a bike was “sticky” he could not get it out of his brain long enough to learn the new skill.
Finally, after about 8 months of practice, he could ride the new bike, but then he discovered he had trouble riding a normal bike. The lesson here is that our brain desperately wants to hold on to old information, but as Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but the one most responsive to change.”
How can we “unlearn” old information?
First, we can change how we think about knowledge. We don’t come into a task with a blank slate. We start a task with an idea of how to do it. To attain new knowledge, we need to figure out what to do with the old knowledge. Unlearning is not forgetting the old knowledge. It is to acknowledge that our old way of doing a task no longer works and invite a new way to approach it. That shift from conscious secure competency to vulnerable conscious incompetency is unpleasant; however, it is the only way to move forward.
The answer is found in Dustin’s encounter with the backward bike; he developed a new model for what he was trying to accomplish. He acknowledged that he couldn’t forget his old processes; all he could do is attempt to replace them with a new model. Once he established he needed a new model, he had to practice his new model until it took root in his brain the same way the old model did.
How we can help
To create a new model, you will need to have your team do micro routines over a period of time to internalize the new model. If you would like to find out how Teamvine can help your teams develop, click here to book a demo of the Teamvine platform.