What Is Learnacy?

‘Learnacy’ is an unusual term that can be roughly defined as the openness to continually learn.

As teachers we can help children see that learning that can be expanded, like a learning muscle.

But we can go much further. We can help them see learning in different ways.

Alvin Toffler in Information Studies said,

The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

This is what learnacy is to me: learning, unlearning and relearning.

This can be best illustrated through an active assessment strategy such as a concept cartoon.

Concept cartoons are cognitive drawings or “visual disagreements” that use a cartoon-style design to present learning conversations inside speech bubbles.

The viewpoints portrayed are all different and it is this difference that acts as a catalyst for further conversations, as learners talk together to discuss their thinking.

They make learners’ ideas about  explicit and they make learning interactive and discussion-based. As formative assessment tools they have real virtue because they are a highly effective way of probing learners’ conceptions and, crucially, their misconceptions.

When children are engaged in a concept cartoon conversation then it is not unusual to see unlearning happening before your eyes. Children think they know something and then along comes a paint stripping statement or comment that takes away their old view and lays the foundation for new thinking.

In these devilishly simple looking visual disagreements, children are challenged to think in more than one way and very often they will encounter information that means they have to unlearn what they hold to be true and relearn a concept.

Concept cartoons are the ideal learnacy tool to illustrate learning, unlearning and relearning.

In the same way, children need to learn that their mindsets and mental maps may need dismantling or upgrading because of faulty teaching or incomplete comprehension. It’s something that Marshall Goldsmith talks about in his book “What got you here won’t get you there.” 

When we provide rich opportunities for children to learn, unlearn and relearn we are giving them critical moments to reflect, renew and reset so they can become expert learners.

But it isn’t just children that need to know about learnacy – their teachers too have to accept that they will need to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Posey and Novak (2020) in Unlearning talk about how teachers may need to discard outdated labels, such as “visual learner,” “left-brained thinker” or “gifted and talented” and unlearn them.

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