The process of individual unlearning: A neglected topic in an under-researched field

Donald Hislop, Sara Bosley, Crispin R. Coombs, Julie Holland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Citations (Scopus)


In a contemporary business environment where change is often regarded as continuous, the ability of people or organizations to be able to successfully adapt and respond to change is key. Change often involves not only the learning of new behaviours, ideas, or practices but also giving up or abandoning some established ones. Despite both these elements generally being important to change, academic focus on processes of abandoning or giving up established knowledge and practices, that is, unlearning, is lacking. This conceptual
article draws on a range of literature to suggest that the process of individual unlearning may have particular features. The review defines the concept of unlearning, differentiates between two different types of individual unlearning, and suggests that each type of individual unlearning may have its own distinctive features and dynamics. This article builds from this insight through developing a typology, which distinguishes between four types of individual unlearning. It concludes with an agenda for future empirical research to examine and validate the concepts presented.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)540-560
Number of pages21
JournalManagement Learning
Issue number5
Early online date24 May 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2014

Bibliographical note

This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) programme (project number 09/1002/34). The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR HS&DR programme, NIHR, NHS, or the Department of Health.


  • emotion
  • learning
  • unlearning
  • unlearning processes
  • unlearning typology


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