networked unlearning

Our nature – our bias towards an inward focus based on tradition and the past, or an external focus on what we’re seeing around us – cuts across age. Those of us who are willing to question our assumptions will find that we can unlearn (and relearn) at any age. Those who put more weight on what they already know will struggle to change at any age. Today’s digital native will be tomorrow’s digital dinosaur if they are unable to unlearn. That bleeding edge agile practitioner who dogmatically insists that they won’t work with unless you follow these four (in their view) essential agile practices has more in common with their older colleagues still clinging to waterfall methodologies than they are comfortable admitting. —Peter Evans-Greenwood

How can we avoid becoming dogmatic? I think social media can help a lot. Today, we can easily connect to networks that offer diverse views. Inge de Waard uses the example of research tribes: “When joining forces with people that have a common language – but different viewing angles – everyone learns as there is some kind of zone of proximal development there, or it can be created based on mutual conversation and dialogue.” Social media are tools that can help us develop emergent practices. They enable conversations between people separated by distance or time. Social media can facilitate the sharing of tacit knowledge through conversations to inform the collaborative development of emergent work practices. Conversations that push our limits enable critical thinking, which boils down to questioning assumptions, including our own.

One way to build a cognitive web toolbox would be to start with each of the four critical thinking categories shown in the image above. Each sub-category is just an example, and includes many different tools. One can start unlearning by finding and mastering tools that allow you to critically observe and study your field, participate in conversations that  push your understanding, challenge your assumptions, evaluate others’ arguments, and make tentative opinions that in turn will be challenged.

Unlearning takes practice. Living in a state of perpetual Beta can also be uncomfortable. The key is to be engaged in your learning. It requires strong opinions, loosely held. That means going out on a limb knowing you may be criticized. It also means putting forth half-baked ideas, which over time and exposure may develop into something more solid.

But finding and weaving our knowledge networks is getting easier with over two billion of us connected by the Internet. This scale and diversity is an advantage, not something to be concerned about. There is no such thing as information overload. I have yet to see someone completely filled with information. The real challenge is finding the right information. The more I learn, the more I realize I have to learn even more.

As Peter says in the article quoted above, “… it’s not learning that is the challenge, it’s our ability to unlearn that’s holding many of us back.” But we don’t need to unlearn alone. Our networks can help us unlearn; if they are are open, transparent, and most importantly, diverse. A more descriptive term for Personal Knowledge Mastery might just be Networked Unlearning or connected critical thinking.

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