12 October 2022

Quality Culture: The Art of Learning, Unlearning and Relearning

By Irene Chang Hui Chung and Jefferson Sim Poh Thong

It seems like it was just yesterday that we were adjusting and coping with our environment as the paradigm shifted due to the pandemic. Some of us adapted well, while some merely adjusted. Things have changed significantly and for many, things will never be the same again. The education and higher education sectors are good examples of how stakeholders stayed resilient and agile, even post-pandemic. Since then, three years have passed, and it seems like we are moving back to our norm with many comfortably adopting new skills and abandoning old habits.

As we start to delve deeper into the implementation of Education 4.0, researchers are already investigating Education 5.0. Time waits for no one and everyone is pushing forward to be better and faster, in every sense. As Alvin Toffler, the great American writer and futurist once quoted, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”, this is the only way forward.

Simply put, learning is about acquiring new knowledge and skills through personal experiences, reading, or being taught new skills. Unlearning, on the other hand, is putting aside what was learned and then relearning it from a different perspective. This process allows us to develop new skills, enhance our capabilities and even expand our horizons. Every day, either knowingly or otherwise, we learn something new, continually unlearning old ‘rules’ and then relearn new ones. By acknowledging the efforts of doing so, this cycle of success is, on its own, of particular importance in today’s rapidly changing world.

From the technical perspective of quality culture, quality assurance is ensuring that there is continuity in the improvement cycle. Without a doubt, the art of learning, unlearning, and relearning can be likened to instilling a culture of quality. Looking at the widely applied and accepted Deming’s PDCA Cycle of quality modelling; the Plan, Do, Check and Act steps in the cycle is about self-reviewing and implementing adjustments to close any gap or loops found. This indirectly eases the learning, unlearning and relearning process.

Like it or not, learning is a lifelong journey. We need to accept that our learning will never be complete, but instead is a continuous cycle throughout our lives. Additionally, some knowledge and skills will become obsolete or outdated at some point and will need to be replaced with new ones. Therefore, regenerating knowledge and skills is necessary for self-development and survival. Those who resist learning will be left behind, widening the disadvantage gap.

Are we ready for the future? Or are we future-ready? Like other progressive countries, Malaysia offers its citizens a formal education system. However, in this era of advancement of technology, agility and even unprecedented situations, the idea of a ‘complete’ education should not be for graduating purposes only. Our graduates should be instilled with a culture that equips them with learning, unlearning and relearning skills.

Of course, any drastic and profound changes are not easy. For change to be effective, it is crucial to have the attitude and willingness to learn. We can all agree that change is the only constant. The purpose of unlearning and relearning is something that we must be prepared and willing to do if we want to grow and reach the next level.

Irene Chang Hui Chung and Jefferson Sim Poh Thong are the executive and assistant manager respectively, at the Policy, Planning and Quality Unit at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. They can be reached via email at ihhchang@swinburne.edu.my and ptsim@swinburne.edu.my.