Every Problem needs ?

So I am mooc-ing again doing the History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education mooc over at Coursera – and the first task was to write about “Unlearning” something.

When I first saw this question I struggled to think of something I had unlearned, I have always considered education as a building on and refining of prior knowledge.  I might find out that something I had learned was incorrect or that there was a better model to describe something than the one that I knew, but I didn’t unlearn the original information I just incorporated the correct information into what I already knew.

What I had to Unlearn

Im a Learning Technologist solving problems is a large part of my job and I am very good at it, no matter what a Teacher is trying to do I will have some advice (often involving technology) that will help them achieve it.  Similarly my degree was a scientific one and most of my education could be loosely described as identifying problems and finding solutions.

By andrea silva from santiago (HEART!) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By andrea silva from santiago (HEART!) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

When I was at university I had a friend called Monica, who was bubbly and cute and really fancied the barman who worked at the student bar.  She asked my advice, I suggested she buy a round and ask him out but she didn’t.  Over the next few weeks I heard repeatedly about the object of her affections and my solutions grew more detailed.  I think at one point I went so far as to draw up a 12 point plan with diagrams and things to say, sadly she never took my advice and her love remained unrequited.

A few years back a friend was having problems at work, I suggested a number of things they could do but nothing really did the trick.  When I got home I complained to my wife that he had refused all my solutions, my wife (who is much smarter than me) said “He didn’t want solutions, he just wanted to tell someone his problems”

My Unlearning lesson

Sometimes people don’t want a solution, they just want you to listen and show that you care about their problem.

What Successes experienced after the Unlearning

Well apart from in social situations one area this has helped in is getting staff to adopt online marking.  You see whenever a group of staff are asked to adopt online marking there is always a significant percentage who really dislike the process no matter how straightforward you try to make it.  However marking is hard work, time consuming and most staff are overstretched during the marking period so its not particularly the online they dislike its the marking itself.  Now instead of spending time and effort further effort optimising an online process that is probably as optimised as it is going to get, instead you make sure that staff have a chance to express their opinions and that they are aware technical support in on hand should they need it.  In one school (that for complicated reasons) went to online marking, stopped, then started again we have had some staff expressing relief at returning to online.


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