unlearnWhen learning new things, especially technical subjects, often the biggest hindrance to being able to understand and use new information is the knowledge that we already have.

As students and teachers (and human beings), we naturally try to fit new facts and information into our existing theories and understanding of the world. However, much of the knowledge we possess has the potential to be outdated, or simply incorrect.

Many beginning or intermediate students get stuck in their education because they try to fit new information into their existing understanding, rather than being willing to give up their current understanding or admit that it may be wrong.

For example, when learning web development, students who know how to use Microsoft Office will look for ways to do web development where the process is similar to creating a document in Microsoft Word or Excel.

For instructors, it’s tempting to relate a new concept to something that the student already knows. However, it’s also important to know when to specifically not make that connection. It doesn’t help at all that we still refer to web “pages” and HTML “documents.” There really is very little, or no, similarity between a page of paper and a modern web application — but we’re stuck with this terminology for the time being.

When this reluctance to accept new information happens in experts, the results can be even more tragic. Albert Einstein spent the last 30 years of his life fruitlessly searching for a unified theory of gravity and electromagnetism. He rejected quantum field theory and made the search for a unified theory his primary aim largely out of a belief or feeling that an elegant mathematical equation must exist. In his later years, he became isolated from the scientific community and stubbornly ignored many new developments in physics.

Letting go of ideas, beliefs, or feelings that don’t serve us in the present moment is difficult. However, the universe of possibilities is infinite and if you’re not open to the possibility that everything you know is wrong, you’re setting yourself up for getting stuck.

Unlearn something today!
Tagged on: