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Yoda Had It Right: You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned


By Intrepid by VitalSource Staff

Before Instagram and Twitter brought us regular #inspiration, there was Yoda. The Jedi Master has a knack for sharing short, snappy sayings that cut to the core of a major life lesson. Whether or not you're a Star Wars fan, during these times, his quote, ”You must unlearn what you have learned,” has a profound implication for those of us in L&D.

As creatures of habit, we tend to love our routines and our go-to methods. But sometimes we have to shake up our process—and even unlearn our process—to succeed. We’re in a new phase of L&D. If I could channel the master himself and reframe his question for the new world of L&D, it may well be “UN-learn which habits you must, hmmm, instructional designers?”

Let’s start with a basic assumption that we are in a digital world that has moved beyond instructor-led training for the long haul, and we need to think more about how we deliver online engagement that changes workplace behavior. Here are some example beliefs that could be re-examined in the new digital blended collaborative world:

  • SMEs are the most important voice in a course. (Learners are there to learn, not share.)
  • Your audience demographics are all you need to know about your audience.
  • You must limit free interaction to control your audience. (What if they say something incorrect?)
  • E-learning, a webinar, or a Zoom session is always the right way to go digital.
  • Completion is the gold standard for digital programs.
  • What happens after the course is not L&D’s concern.

Let’s break down a few of these. For one thing, learners come to the digital table with a lot of existing knowledge from other experiences, on-the-job expertise, and various needs and motivations for being in the learning program in the first place. Assuming that learner contributions won’t make for a better learning experience or that you don’t need to know what learners want to know are avoidable mistakes.


A second point is that moderators point out excellent discussion forum answers and bring up questions when incorrect information is given. As my colleagues have written about before, if a learner is sharing bad information in a course, it’s better to know and correct it than to have them spreading that same bad information on the job without your knowledge or chance for a teaching moment.

The technology available for digital programs today is vast, and you need to choose the right fit for purpose. One size fits all (e-learning and Zoom sessions) hardly fit anyone, actually.


Completion is not always the most important thing. A learner may know a lot of the course material already and just be looking for a refresher or to pick up some new nuggets. We all graze when we consume information through YouTube or Google in our personal lives. Often that’s a perfectly appropriate thing for a learner to do in certain types of courses. This ties right into understanding not just your learner demographics but what they need out of the course. Does your audience already understand the theory of a topic but need company context? Or do they know the company context but are learning a stretching skillset? Or are they new to the company and idea? You would design differently for those different audiences even if their statistical demographics were the same.

So, challenge your own assumptions. Write what you tend to believe about learners and digital learning then take a step back. Are your assumptions about the people for whom you’re designing the learning fully formed? Are you up to speed about what technology can do today that it couldn’t do yesterday? How can you think outside your usual box? Doing these things will lead to better digital learning, and as we all know, the classroom is not an option right now, so the times, well they have already changed.

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