Why “learn, unlearn, relearn”?

Adult education experts estimate that up to 40% of what tertiary students are learning will be obsolete a decade from now when they will be working in jobs that have yet to be created. Indeed, the top 10 most in-demand jobs today didn’t even exist 10 years ago. To say that we live in a changing world understates the speed of both the pace and the scope of ongoing change.

In this perspective, the education system is undergoing a major overhaul.

Illiterate of the 21st Century will not those who cannot read and write, but those cannot learn, unlearn and relearn – Alvin Toffler

How does our brain work in the encoding of long-term knowledge?

Unlike babies who do not have any prior knowledge (concepts, beliefs, ideas, values, theories,…), we learn new knowledge by reference to those we already know. We focus on the points of similarity between them to select the information that reaches the brain.

At this stage, it is necessary to know how to differentiate between short-term memory and long-term memory. The first is part of the memory system where limited bits or simple chunks of information that have attended to are held a brief amount of time (5–20 seconds) for processing then lost. So let’s say “use it or lose it! ». On the other hand, long-term memory is the part of the memory system where processed information is stored, managed, and retrieved for later use.

The first step to creating a memory is called “encoding”. It’s when you notice an event or come across a piece of information and your brain consciously perceives the sounds, images, physical feeling, or other sensory details involved.

It is, therefore, necessary to actively review the information we have noted or heard through training to enhance, reorganize, strengthen, and making them easier to retrieve: passive proofreading with highlighting is of no use here. It is preferable to use practical scenarios, quizzes, or even conversations with peers about the concepts discussed. The visualization of learning supports such as graphs and images also improves the anchoring during the rehearsal.

The more consolidated the memory subsequently becomes and the easier it will be retrieve later. Likewise if the learner is made aware of organizational relationships during memory formation, the easier it will likely be to retrieve the memories.

Of course, you have surely heard some people say that he was not good enough in mathematics, in studies in general. Yet Albert Einstein was the worst of the dunces in class, many dyslexics like Steve Jobs did not follow the university path at all, and yet they became true “geniuses”, or rather visionaries.

2. It’s all about the Mindset

We will not stumble upon reading Dr. Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” to understand that:

  • Those called fixed-mindset are people who have limiting beliefs that prevent them from evolving in the acquisition of skills as long as they are outside their comfort zone. They feel unable to overcome certain problems and lack flexibility in managing their emotions.
  • On the other hand, the so-called growth-mindset is characterized by a certain amount of curiosity, ease, and perseverance in solving difficult problems. They have better stress management. It’s a sort of mental attitude about critical thinking and curiosity. It’s about the mindset of looking at the world in a playful and curious, creative way.

In terms of skills acquisition, from a psychological point of view, we will have to use certain strategies to motivate fixed-mindset people to leave their comfort zone, by restoring their confidence in their ability to succeed step by step and to put them in confidence during the learning process with:

  • relevant and encouraging feedback allowing them to work on their weak points. Success will depend on what the learner does with his or her feedback, giving the learner the opportunity to progress and challenge his or her own disabling beliefs.

“When people express opinions that differ from yours, take it as a chance to grow. Be curious, not defensive. The only way to disarm another human being is by listening”. Glennon Doyle Helton

  • a small win and sometimes reinforce their sense of self-efficacy, confidence in moving forward.
  • joint work to be done with peers at a slightly more sustained level to receive further feedback, feel a sense of belonging to a group and persevere, or even challenge with them while avoiding unnecessary pressure.
  • work to be carried out with increasingly increasing difficulties over time that they can achieve in such a way that they understand the meaning of the effort, purpose and in fine let them know that struggle is an integral part of the learning process. Each small step they achieve leads to a small win and sometimes reinforce their sense of self-efficacy, confidence in moving forward.

This so-called heuristic method makes it possible not to separate the least efficient from the most “intelligent”, providing opportunities for choice, control, a collaboration which are good strategies to increase the “academic” level if it is the education system. This is a far cry from the elitist method, but it is no less interesting.

Scientific research has also shown that, in terms of motivation, the stronger the feeling of belonging to a group, the higher the results of assessments. Students, learners who have negative stereotypes (historically marginalized groups including women who enter quantitative fields) associated with their identities (gender, race, cultures, beliefs, socio-economical level) worry about their teacher, instructor/coach, expect them. They can increase stress, anxiety, undermine student motivation which is a source of failure, of abandonment for the learner. This is why it is important to create a climate of trust. By promoting the idea that critical, constructive feedback is a sign of a teacher’s confidence in a learner’s potential to reach high standards and skills.

More than two centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “You tell me, I forget. You teach me, I remember. You involve me, I learn”. It’s always so true!

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