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Fiona Pollock

Zostera Ltd

Learning Consultant & Coach

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The Case for “Untraining” Staff


Recently I've been doing a lot of reading around heutagogy, the theory of self-determined learning and it reminds me a lot of the approach many parents are taking to raising their children.

I have two children, a daughter (3) and a son (1).  With both we chose to wean them using the baby led method.  Basically, this means we waited until they were 6-months old and started them straight onto solids.  The principle is that you don't ever feed your baby, you always let your baby feed itself.  The research behind baby led weaning is very interesting: a baby instinctively knows what nutrients it needs and where to get them from; a baby can only get to it's mouth things that are 'safe' for it to eat (i.e. a 6-month old baby can't pick up a pea, it just doesn't have the manual dexterity and that's just as well really because it would choke on a pea anyway).

Research shows that providing you offer a baby a wide range of food over a period of a week (approx) they will naturally eat what they need from the different food groups to ensure they have a well-balanced diet.  They instinctively know  what nourishment they need and can select it from the variety offered to them.

It's quite amazing to watch, these little tiny things actually manage to feed themselves.  It's the start of the becoming independent from you as a parent and as thrilling as it is to watch it's also a little heart-wrenching as it's the first step to them needing you less.

I don't want to come across a preachy parent (apart from every baby being an individual, that's also not the point of this post!) there are huge benefits to babies being weaned this way.  They develop a healthy approach to food in later life, they are less likely to become overweight in later life and they develop manual dexterity faster than babies who aren't baby led to name a few.

Of course, all of these things can be  and are developed and instilled in babies who are traditionally weaned, but baby-led weaning utilises the baby's own skills and knowledge, it allows them to learn through experience and build their own knowledge framework in these areas.

Fast forward a few years to school age children and you hear people talking about 'unschooling'.  Different to home schooling (where a child will still follow a curriculum which is overseen by parents at home), someone being unschooled isn't told what or how to learn, there is no-one in charge of their learning other than them.  You can read more about unschooling in this great post by Leo Babauta here:

The underlying principles are the same as baby led weaning.  The child is put in the center of the process, it taps into their in-built skills and knowledge and allows them to learn through experience and experiments.

It would seem therefore, logical to apply the same process to adult learning.  People largely know what they need to know, now more than ever.  Wouldn't it be a far more productive and effective use of time and resources to "untrain" someone.  Just as unschooling allows children the freedom to learn outwith the confines of a curriculum and classroom, "untraining" would apply the same principles.

It's no longer our roles as L&D professionals to set the curriculum and decide what someone should learn and how they should learn it.  People need the freedom to individualise their own learning, set their own goals (if they want to even set a goal) and up-skill themselves.

Our role now is much like that of a parent weaning their child.  It's to guide the individual.  Teach them how to be self-sustaining.  Provide the range of resources for them to learn from and be there to support them if/when they struggle. Nurture their ability to teach themselves.  This skill set will help produce a capable person, and as I talked about in my last post ( isn't that what we are aiming for?

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Fiona Pollock

Learning Consultant & Coach

Read more from Fiona Pollock

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