CCK11: Unlearning knowledge

How does Connectivism deal with unlearning knowledge?

I’m still stuck from yesterday on the question of what might be labeled knowledge that I don’t wish to have—for instance, the “knowledge” in the culture around me that leads to discrimination or worse (e.g., racism).

George Siemens’ learning theories table lists a column called “property” that might be helpful. What if I were to add a row into the matrix that says something like “How unlearning occurs”? Does that even make sense? Maybe it’s too related to “How transfer occurs.”

Regardless, here’s a first stab:

Property: How unlearning occurs

Behaviorism: Unlearning is a result of receiving greater (or perhaps more recent) rewards for the new knowledge (e.g., pro-equality knowledge earns me greater rewards in a democratic society).

Cognitivism: Unlearning is a result of receiving information that contradicts the known but that fits in with other existing and persuasive schema (e.g., my knowledge that the race I belong to is superior to others is unlearned by my learning about examples of the achievements of people of different races and/or by my realizing that this knowledge contradicts the knowledge that “all (wo)men are created equal”).

Constructivism: Unlearning is a result of my interactions with my family, friends, and colleagues as well as by my understanding that the knowledge I held isn’t The Truth but represents a specific history, culture, and position that I can work against (e.g., I see that the world around me is constantly [re]created by people, cultural products, and systems of power that uphold the view that people of different races are fundamentally and irrevocably different from each other).

Connectivism: Unlearning is a result of … (choose one or more?)

  1. interpreting the patterns of relationships differently (a circular argument: why would I do such a thing?)
  2. strengthening some ties in my network and finding/making new ones (again, what prompts this?)
  3. the increasing diversity of the expanding network  (does this imply that increasing diversity always leads to pro-human, pro-democratic, etc., knowledge?)
  4. ?

I’m sort of winding myself up in knots here and not reaching any satisfying conclusions.

I keep trying not to imply that there’s some sort of False Knowledge (versus the True Knowledge we’re all seeking) in this little foray, but it’s hard not to. The way it “feels” to me is that I collect new knowledge because it seems “righter” to me than the knowledge I had before (or it’s “righter” to have this new knowledge than to have no knowledge at all). 

2 Responses to CCK11: Unlearning knowledge

  1. You’ve set a difficult task for yourself!

    I understand the urge to unlearn in this time when most of our institutions have failed us. Why study their broken version of the world, even as history, when the evidence is clear this version leads into such a mess?

    Individuals fail ethically and the society they live in can choose to ignore it or demand better behaviour. Potentially, with connectivism understood as a group process that need not be held together by consensus, roles will emerge that can include questioners and challengers.

    I’m not sure why this should be as it’s not a given in group dynamics that an ethical system emerge, and connectivism could go to hell like any other system, but let’s say it could “know” false knowledge without allowing it to become operational knowledge. Have to think about this more. We are at a place where something new is emerging. Do we have to unlearn the past or look to it for ideas that didn’t lead to mistakes?

    Scott J

  2. leahgrrl says:

    I love this point: “it’s not a given in group dynamics that an ethical system emerges.” Certainly a cursory historical review shows that’s true! And your idea about operational knowledge versus what I’d call knowledge you want to unlearn seems like a really useful distinction. There’s something about the way our course readings discuss the “discovery’ and “recognition” of patterns as though the patterns are a given that made me think about all this. It seems to put aside the question of how social change might happen.

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