“The purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs; it’s to evolve our beliefs.” – Adam Grant, “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know”  

The words “unlearning” and “relearning” have been quite popular in the professional development space for the last few years, especially in light of the increased use of artificial intelligence and the changing skills landscape. As the concepts become more commonplace, it’s helpful to explore what they really mean.  

According to LinkedIn 

Unlearning is the process of letting go of old habits, beliefs and ideas that no longer serve us.  

Relearning is the process of learning something again, often in a new or different way. It involves building on previous knowledge and experiences to gain a deeper understanding of a subject or skill.  

The ability to erase or adjust old practices and invite more efficient, effective ones is increasingly important. The World Economic Forum estimates that up to 50% of all employees will require reskilling by 2025. Workers feel this urgency too, with 87% acknowledging that there is a necessity to acquire new expertise throughout their careers. 

To stay relevant and be successful, it’s essential that leaders embrace and implement continuous education across their organizations.  

Enhance the Unlearning Experience 

Ever heard the phrase: If your cup is full, no more can be poured in? It’s a great metaphor for the idea of unlearning. If the brain is stuffed with information about the “right” way to do things, there’s little room to evolve.  

Letting go of existing knowledge can be challenging because it requires a great deal of mental agility. Breaking habits takes practice and time, which is often in short supply these days. It also requires people to question themselves and the way things have seemingly worked in the past. 

Another core challenge of unlearning comes from limiting beliefs. Consider a hypothetical coworker named Andrea who thinks that she is unskilled at math. When she analyzes data and reports on statistics, her own confirmation bias may get in the way of her success in growing that skill set. Her mentality may also be a roadblock as Andrea advances throughout her career and needs to gain expertise in analytics. 

To support the unlearning process, talent development professionals can use the seven Emergenetics Attributes to inspire aha moments of the importance of letting go of preconceived notions. In training sessions, honor the Expressiveness Attribute by making time for reflection as well as small group discussion to consider the following prompts. Invite participants to lean into the Flexibility and Assertiveness Attributes by identifying 1 – 2 commitments they will make and their pace to affect change. 

Use these reflection prompts, which speak to each of the Thinking Attributes:  

  • What evidence exists that may encourage you to question your current perspective? 
  • Create a list of the assumptions you have made. 
  • Identify the impacts that a new approach could have on those around you.  
  • What possibilities could result from letting go of your existing beliefs? 

Tip for talent developers: Be sure to weave supporting points related to the questions above into training materials to highlight the importance of rethinking conventional wisdom or the practices that the session is designed to change. 

Unlearning will become easier when people identify their reasoning behind the process. Once the why is established, the next step is the how. 

Strengthen Relearning Tactics 

Relearning extends beyond simply replacing outdated practices. It can mean to progress, reskill or advance the tools and abilities a person already has with new information.  

Let’s revisit Andrea to solidify an understanding of what the process may look like. We know from Andrea’s Emergenetics Profile that she is a Social, Conceptual Thinker with first-third preferences. Given her Profile, Andrea decided to challenge her limiting beliefs by implementing the Language of Grace to use the power of positive psychology to encourage herself as she worked on building up her data analytics skills.  

She also chose to collaborate with her coworker, who works on the business intelligence team, to assess the data sets she wants to analyze and receive feedback on opportunities to strengthen her knowledge. 

When employees lean into their strengths, it boosts their motivation and growth. The following tips can be integrated into development programs to help participants be more successful as they relearn: 

  • Encourage Analytical Thinkers to research recommendations from other experts in the field 
  • Invite those with a Structural preference to set a schedule to practice the skills they are building 
  • Appeal to the Social Attribute by having them identify someone who can assist or mentor them in achieving their goals 
  • Honor Conceptual Thinking by determining experiments they can employ in the relearning experience   
  • Use the Expressiveness Attribute to track progress through journaling or by checking in with an accountability partner  
  • Connect to Assertiveness by establishing the pace for developing this knowledge or skill, setting achievable milestones or challenging stretch goals 
  • Consider Flexibility by focusing on repetition and contingency plans if prior habits or beliefs start to reappear 

Learning is not always linear, and “scratchiness” is to be expected. By honoring employees’ strengths, staff will be in a better position to develop new skills and continue advancing, and in the process, leaders will build a highly adaptable and resilient workforce.  

Curious to learn how you can use the seven Emergenetics Attributes to strengthen your training and development initiatives? Explore Associate Certification or fill out the form below to speak with a team member today! 


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