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Learn , Unlearn and Relearn

Sounh Mon Hlaing

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” Alvin Toffler

You see, reading and writing won’t cut it any more. They are not enough. Nowadays you have to know how to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Knowing how to unlearn and relearn is more important than what you think you know.

People that say that they “know” because they learned “it” 10, 20, 30 years ago are living in the dark and risk waking up one morning realizing that, in reality, they know nothing.

Learning is the first step but you must be prepared to accept that the world evolves and the only way to keep up with change is to unlearn. Unlearning makes relearning easier because it makes room for new experiences. Trying to shoehorn new knowledge with outdated notions is counterproductive. When you buy new shoes you don’t put them on over old shoes, do you?

Small, constant updates are a good way to avoid complete unlearning, especially with technology and language. If you wait too long though, trying to update your knowledge base will only cause confusion. For the geeks amongst you let’s put it in a tech context. If a program you have been using for years has continuous upgrades then you easily keep up with the changes and will probably use the new features. If, on the other hand, you never upgrade and hope to jump from version 1 to version 10 then you will be totally lost. You have to completely forget (let go of ) version 1 and approach version 10 as if you never used the program in your life.

If you would, how we will educate the near future. It just three words will define what we can expect: Individualized, Interactive, and Anywhere. Learning will no longer be confined to a classroom and from an instructor standing in front of the room lecturing. Enhanced devices will enable students of any age, and located anywhere, to learn skills that are relevant, meaningful, and employable.


Today, companies such as Knewton are completely changing the way information is presented by individualizing the experience. Every student uses a platform created by the company that is completely catered to the way they learn the best. The lessons move at their pace and homework and tests are tailor-made to best insure that the student is truly understanding and retaining the subject matter.  The program even assigns students study partners that complement each other’s learning styles.  Many new companies are currently being established to serve the quickly growing market for individualized learning systems.

Interactive E-Book

Next, Interactive e-books will completely displace the traditional dead tree variety of textbooks in the future. Textbooks that students use now are unable to reflect the almost daily changes in our current understanding of a subject. Some textbooks being currently sold contain information more than 5 years old by the time they are printed. These paper textbooks are also incredibly expensive – I remember as a student being forced to buy a Finance book that cost me $185- and that was for a used copy! This is simply unacceptable in today’s technological environment. And, with e-books, content can be interactive – you could click on the picture of a frog and digitally dissect it in a biology book, for example. Now, isn’t that better than killing a real frog? E-books can be updated regularly so that their information is always relevant and correct. This change is happening on other countries – S. Korea has already announced that they will stop using paper textbooks completely within three years!

Gamification and LBS

With mobile devices, that content can be experienced anywhere – not just the classroom. Additionally, they allow the use of gamification and location-based services and to enhance education. Gamification, which is adding a gaming element to something, along with Location-Based Services, which is using your mobile device to determine where you are and incorporate that into what you are doing, will rapidly disrupt education.

Think of it this way – If a student who is currently studying classical art, is at a Museum, they can use their smartphone to check-in to that the museum and experience interactive information while they explore. And, each time they discover and learn about a new painting or sculpture, they would earn experience points for their classical art class.

Open-Source and Open- Access

Now, course materials aren’t just going to change because they will be on interactive e-books now – The texts themselves will fundamentally change in the way they are produced.

Open-Source and Open-Access content will begin to displace publisher- produced content. Think of Wikipedia vs. a regular dictionary – millions of people can read what thousands of us have written and edited on Wikipedia.  We are already seeing a rapid growth of online content and this is just the beginning. Apple recently announced iBooks 2, which will be used to produce and sell textbooks on the iPad for the K-12. This alone is massively disruptive, bringing prices from up to $100 per book to $14.99 or less. 350,000 books where purchased within three days of its launch.

Online Class

And, furthermore, why would you take the class of a professor that may not even be in the top hundred professors in their field, when you can easily access content from the best professor in that subject via the Internet? This, also, is beginning to happen. Recently, I participated in a class called “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” offered by Stanford. The instructors were the two top experts in the world in this area. This class was free and I had over 100,000 classmates. We were able to take tests, do homework, and still interact with the professors and with other students. So, the question quickly becomes – Why should a student pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar university?

The large number of teachers and professors we have now will simply not be needed in the future. Most teachers will serve a much different role. For example, Khan Academy, which was started in 2006 by Salman Khan, produces YouTube videos about biology, mathematics, and science to help students learn about these subjects in a way that has really connected with many of them. Over 100 million students have viewed his videos to date. Some classrooms are experimenting with a model where students learn their lesson from the Khan Academy videos at home, and come into class the next day and their teacher helps with their homework instead of teaching them the actual lesson. This model has proven to be very successful and we’ll certainly see more of this.


Burnham, J. ( 2012, March 2 ). Learn, unlearn and relearn [Web blog message ].Retrieved January 20, 2013 from Unlearning Education ( 2012 ). Retrieved January 20, 2013, from

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