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7 Examples of Unlearning

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Unlearning is the process of changing your understanding, assumptions and views in order to see things in a new light. This is not about literally forgetting what you know but is more a process of continually challenging your own knowledge. The following are illustrative examples.

Challenging Assumptions

The process of questioning basic assumptions that you and others hold. For example, an electric car designer who challenges the assumption that electric vehicles need to look anything like conventional cars.

Counterfactual Thinking

Counterfactual thinking is the imaginative process of changing a fact to experiment with how things might have been different. For example, imagining how your life would have turned out if you had chosen a different profession or path.


Openness is the process of fairly considering the arguments of others even when they conflict with your own views, understanding and assumptions. This generates unlearning as occasionally you may see that others are right about something.


Adaptability is the process of noticing change and trying to react to this change in some reasonable way. For example, a teacher who unlearns a teaching method when they notice it doesn't appear to work as well on new generations of students who have different experiences, learning needs and perceptions.

Reasoned Inquiry

Objectively evaluating available evidence without starting with your assumptions about how things should be. For example, an architect who has always assumed wood isn't strong enough for tall structures who goes back to first principles and data to determine if it is possible or not.


Reflecting on yourself and your life in order to potentially challenge your most fundamental priorities, views, behaviors and thought processes. For example, challenging your assumption that you want or need a promotion at work.


A common theme of mastery learning is that you must first learn a topic very well before you can challenge conventional knowledge. For example, an artist who is educated and experienced in the fine arts such that they master conventional techniques and aesthetics before going on to lead new art movements that challenge everything.


Unlearning is the process of challenging your own knowledge to avoid inflexible, closed, stale or unimaginative thinking.


Unlearning is the process of overcoming trained incapacity, the tendency for knowledge and experience to cement an individual's views and assumptions such that they become less creative, adaptive and flexible.
Next: Trained Incapacity
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