Unlearning as a part of Reskilling

Unlearning is necessary in the tech reskilling process, and in life. What is unlearning and why is it relevant when acquiring a new profession or new skills?

The world is in constant motion. Cures for illnesses, commercial travel to space, and development of new technologies are happening at unprecedented rates. With so many fields in this forward-thinking mindset, many of our principles, ideals, and even the tech we use become obsolete. You’re not bound to see anyone with a flip phone, or scientists arguing that Pluto is our 9th planet.

Why is that? Because as times change, ideas get disproved, machinery becomes more efficient, and beliefs we have once held no longer fit the framework of modernity. As a result, we must be ready to adapt ourselves to all of these changes. We can do so through the process of unlearning.

What is Unlearning?

Unlearning is the removal of patterns of thinking brought upon us by society, upbringings, and other institutions that no longer contain value. By unlearning we create space for new ways of thinking that better enhance our lives, work, and personal relationships. As Mark Bonchek, CEO of ShiftThink, explains, “unlearning is not about forgetting. It’s the ability to choose an alternative mental model or paradigm.” In the Harvard Business Review, Boncheck generalises the unlearning process into three key steps:

  1. Recognise that the old mental model is no longer relevant or effective.
  2. Find or create a new model that can better achieve your goal.
  3. Ingrain the new mental habits.

The unlearning process is unique to each individual and requires persistent effort. Through time, these steps provide the foundation for you to accept change with open arms. An interesting point of unlearning is that often it is simply a result of growing out of old mindsets and biases. Many education systems painted this narrative that boys were meant to be engineers and scientists, while girls were meant to participate in more empathetic positions, like teachers and caretakers. As we get older, we find these ideas become less pervasive, and merely untrue. We know that any girl can be an incredible scientist, doctor, or any career that society has deemed intended for a male. This concept of unlearning remains proficient within many industries. For instance, Borhek explains in the marketing industry that the standard of promotion was once through mass communication (one size fits all).

They once believed all consumers acted and thought in a like-minded manner, making businesses market products identically throughout all demographics. In recent years, however, digital marketing has shifted away from this. It now focuses on the belief that customers are multifaceted,  incorporating specific targeting of buyer personae into marketing tactics and online campaigns.

The Tech Skills Gap and What the Market Needs Now

The current tech skills gap further augments the need for unlearning. Currently, there are more vacant tech positions than qualified people to fill them. For centuries, young adults have been attending universities to attain academic degrees. However, nowadays, these degrees are no longer a guarantee for job security. Curriculum doesn’t meet industry standards. For instance, UCLA’s student newspaper, the Daily Bruin stated that its “computer science department is largely based on 20th-century theoretical foundations of the field.” Rather than attending a four-year degree, individuals are reskilling and upskilling their abilities through shorter tech training programs like CTIA’s.

CTIA focuses on teaching the latest tech and required skills, thus increasing employability. These career-oriented programs are not nearly as long and expensive as a college degree, but they prepare people better for what’s needed to get a job in the tech industry. This is helping close the tech skills gap between academic studies and industry demand. At large, we need to unlearn that a college degree is the only way to get a tech job, as better paths exist.

As denoted by John Hitter, Forbes Council Member, we “overwhelm the old action with the newly desired action.” After giving students a brief glimpse into older technology and ways of work (such as Waterfall Development), we spend the majority of the programs teaching relevant materials that are aligned with the local tech ecosystem’s needs. We immerse students in applicable knowledge through hands-on work, group projects, and interactive simulators. Since technology will always advance, one of the most important learnings is the process of unlearning. You should never forget older knowledge, but always give room for new and better ideas, including relevant tech skills.

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