Most of us acknowledge the importance of learning, that’s why we have the great educational institutions, even in professional life we keep learning vast amounts to keep up with the rate of change.

Do you recognize the importance of unlearning? What was the last thing you unlearned?

Let me answer this first; honestly I don’t think about it consciously that much. In my professional spoken language there are there are manners that I am consciously trying to unlearn, but otherwise there is not much conscious unlearning plan in my life.

This is because most of us are gifted!

You see, human memory is quite unreliable, no matter what we consciously think of our ability! Let’s just explore the basic memory retention for starters, see image 1 below which is the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.

forgetting curve

(Image 1. Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve)

Without any recall after initial memory experience, we forget most of what we’ve learned. Steepness of the curve has been topic of some discussion. At a glance in Google image search, it seems like the images with about 21% retention after 31 days or one month is at the moment most popular one [1][2][3]. That’s quite little, one fifth of what we originally learned.

Tuomas Loukola has defined the learning process in the following way “learning is forgetting and remembering.” [4]

When we forget, we do not remember. We cannot say we learned, so did we unlearn? I think so. We are brilliant learners, because even though we forget something and cannot consciously recall it right away, we may recall it later either randomly or by conscious effort.

In the blog [4] Tuomas Loukola lists three reasons why remembering is important (I think these three steps are originally from the book Carey B. 2014 How we Learn, however I haven’t that book yet checked it so bear with me):

  • Incubation, a subconscious process that requires forgetting
  • Filtering the information, only relevant remains
  • Forgetting strengthens learning through super compensation

From conscious growth perspective, we would need to recall things that will benefit us, we would need to recall some of the stuff we have read recently and to do that, it’s not so good to hang around in circles, which does not allow us to do that: reinforce the positive memories we want to reinforce.

Just as forgetting is necessary for learning, unlearning is necessary for growth. It’s the necessary creative destruction for growth.

“When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before.” — Henry David Thoreau



[1] Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting, google image search: https://www.google.fi/search?site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1097&bih=628&q=ebbinghaus+curve+of+forgetting&oq=ebbinghaus+&gs_l=img.3.2.0i19l10.1371.4659.0.5993.….0…1ac.1.64.img..2.13.942…0.RRngqKz9oC0

[2] http://www.trainingindustry.com/wiki/entries/forgetting-curve.aspx

[3] http://www.elearningcouncil.com/learning-theory/overcoming-ebbinghaus-curve-how-soon-we-forget/

[4] Tuomas Loukola blog: https://uusioppiminen.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/oppiminen-on-unohtamista-2/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s