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Bitesize: Learn, Unlearn, Relearn

Learn, Unlearn, Relearn


There is a famous quote by Alvin Toffler that goes:

The illiterate of the future are not those who can’t read or write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

As educators, you’re probably already quite enthusiastic about the learning part.

Being a lifelong learner is something that is a part of us. We’re constantly learning new things and updating our knowledge.

But learning is not just about acquiring new things to learn, it’s important to learn, unlearn and relearn.

In today’s episode I’m talking about why it’s necessary to consistently ‘unlearn’ our habits, unconscious beliefs, assumptions, and our practices so that we can make space for the new.

I’m sharing some tips and coaching questions to get you thinking about where you can declutter and detach, so that you stay fresh and relevant.



Well, if you think back to the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, there was a lot of unlearning going on.

We had to completely re-write the rule book for the way we did things.

Personally, I was used to doing all my trainings in-person.

I had dabbled in online trainings before but they weren’t at the heart of what I did.

So, what do you do when all your upcoming trainings vanish overnight or are postponed indefinitely? Well, you need to let go of the old ways of doing things and embrace the new.

And that’s what I did, I called 2020 the year of ‘experimenting without fear’.

I tried out a lot of different types of online sessions, both method-based, skills-based and experience-based. I played with a lot of different ways of delivering my content – one off masterclasses, courses, and subscription-based models based on both live and recorded classes or both.

There was a certain amount of discomfort at the start and worry too – what if this doesn’t work? What if no-one likes it? What if no-one shows up?

And a certain amount of convincing too – convincing the people I work with that online sessions could work JUST AS WELL (IF NOT BETTER THAN) in-person if delivered in an engaging and interactive way.

And it doesn’t stop there, once you’ve done the unlearning, you have to do the relearning.

I had to do a fair amount of letting go of the old ways of doing things and brainstorm, learn and embrace alternatives.

I also had to do some rewiring so that I shook off my assumptions about what online learning had to be like.

And it paid off. It has been a wonderful experience getting to know and work with educators all over the world from my Zoom screen.

And I’m so glad I adapted and moved forwards.


Unlearning what you think you know about something, helps you to relearn what you need to know. 

And it can be a massive shift. 

If, for example, you’ve been trained that the most important part of your guided tours or art experiences is the information that you’re sharing with your participants, learning that your participants are actually here for connection and personal discovery, will probably cause you to start questioning all the habits you have developed when you’re with a group. 

Likewise, if you’ve been taught to walk and talk and expect the group to listen, what happens when you find out that your group wants to interact and have substantial 2 way discussions with you? 


The type of things I’m talking about here are the things that we have perhaps accepted as ‘fact’ for years.

The things that have served us well for a long time, but are now in the way of us progressing further.

But there comes a point in most people’s lives when these so-called facts don’t fit any more. 

In Adam Grant’s book Think Again which is all about this subject, he says that we make fun of people for using Windows 95 but many of us are still holding on to ideas and beliefs that we had in 1995!

And dismantling something that has become a part of the way you work, your practice, is, in the short term at least, painful. 


But the world needs people who are open to change, are adaptable and can question their assumptions

We need to be able to ‘unlearn’ our habits, unconscious beliefs, assumptions and our practices, so that we can make space for the new. 

We need to be able to throw things out if they don’t fit who we are or don’t fit the organisation that we’re working for.

Just like the example I’ve just shared about moving from in-person training to online, we need to be able to detach ourselves from the way we have done things, if it’s now longer serving us or our participants. 


We also need to unlearn things to keep ourselves fresh and interested in our work. 

You can’t possibly remember everything, so it’s good to have a declutter now and again. 

So, for example, If you have always worked with a certain artwork in a certain way, with a certain story or theme or activity, perhaps it’s time to assess whether it’s still working for you.

Is it relevant? Is it effective? Does it engage my participants? 

If not, then maybe it’s time to decommission it to make some space for some new ideas.

How could you approach it differently? Explore some new resources or chat to colleagues for inspiration. 

Revisit everything now and again – just because you learned it once, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way forever. 


And the good news about all of this is that this process is actually a joy (once it stops being uncomfortable).

Being able to adapt, unlearn and relearn will ultimately lead us to think more deeply about who we are as educators, and to think more deeply about how you want to be perceived and how you want to work in the future.

And you’ll be future-proofed because you’re always willing to adapt and change as necessary. 

As the title of the book by Malcolm Goldsmith says ‘what got you here, won’t get you there’. 

So, start asking questions like ‘How do I know this is the best approach?’ or do some forward-thinking and imagine yourself in 5, 10 or 15 years from now. Ask yourself, will this be relevant in the future?  What do I need to unlearn and relearn? If I take something away, what could go in its place?


So, some food for thought.  Here are 3 final coaching questions to think about and ponder: 

  • What are a couple of things that have served you well up to this point, but need to change if you are to move ahead?
  • What habits, beliefs, assumptions, practices or values could you unlearn so that you make space for something new?’ 
  • Who or what can help me to unlearn and relearn?  

If you want to dive a bit deeper into this subject then I would recommend reading Adam Grant’s book Think Again                                 


And don’t forget my FREE new Facebook group The Slow Looking Club created especially for podcast listeners. It’s a place for conversation and discussion about engaging with art, objects and life slowly. I’ll share resources, ideas and tips for anyone interested in looking at art – whether it’s for your personal enjoyment or your practice as a cultural educator. And we’ll have regular slow looking moments together too!