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DEPARTMENTS: From the Editor

Unlearning Revisited

Fitzpatrick, Joyce J.

Nursing Education Perspectives: March/April 2016 - Volume 37 - Issue 2 - p 60
doi: 10.1097/01.NEP.0000480672.35454.7f
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It has been close to a year and a half since I listened to the learning guru Jack Uldrich talk about higher unlearning. I was never more influenced by a speaker than I was by Uldrich. Prior to reading his book, I had aspired to being a chief learning officer, but he so revolutionized my thinking that I now aspire to be a chief unlearning officer. Why? Because Uldrich does far more than admonish us to think outside the box. He asks us to think differently (Uldrich, 2011).

I have tried to put several of Uldrich’s lessons to work in teaching my classes, sometimes with great success and sometimes with great failure. I think that many of his lessons deserve attention as we in nursing education try to refine our nursing education pedagogy and strive to make sense of our past and our future in a changing health care environment.

So, what has worked? One of his clear lessons is that “it is OK to be in love with what you do, but not how you do it.” I have thought about this often, particularly as I teach the same course for the 20th or 30th time. I need to shake up the content, to maintain my passion as I try to excite my students.

One change I have made is to let students set the parameters of class meeting times and design projects that fit their learning needs, not projects that I am interested in for evaluation purposes. Of course, all of this meets course time requirements and is done within approved course objectives. But flexibility is introduced according to the background and skills of the students. And, importantly, students design assignments that are far more rigorous than what I might have imagined.

I admit that I’m not sure how I would shake up the learning in a basic education course; all of my current teaching is at the graduate level. But I am certain that some of you will take Uldrich’s message to heart and implement some of his new ideas for unlearning.

The best part of Ulrich’s 39 lessons for unlearning is that he uses real-world examples and gives readers homework to test their unlearning knowledge and skills. Although I have practiced these lessons many times, I am still often challenged to see the big, wide future of unlearning.

One of the best exercises I found is to select two potential reverse mentors — individuals who are younger than I am or more inexperienced — and spend time with each of them each quarter, just listening. I have tried implementing this with students who are, of course, younger and more inexperienced in the field of nursing education. But students are often far more experienced in some other areas and far more knowledgeable. I have gathered some technology tips that are personally and professionally useful, but, most of all, I have learned of the challenges of life as a young adult and as a newly minted faculty member.

One clear lesson is that “it is OK to be in love with what you do, but not how you do it.” I have thought about this often, particularly as I teach the same course for the 20th or 30th time. I need to shake up the content, to maintain my passion as I try to excite my students.

Unlearning is not a new concept. In fact, Uldrich provides several quotations about unlearning that he attributes to great leaders who were alive years ago, for example, Henry David Thoreau and G. K. Chesterton. It is always good to remind ourselves that great minds do think alike.

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Reference

Uldrich J. ( 2011). Higher unlearning: 39 Post-requisite lessons for achieving a successful future. Edina, MN: Beaver’s Pond Press.
© 2016 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.