Learning is not sprinting

3 Minutes Read

...but don’t believe it’s Marathon either

Have you heard the expression “Learning is not sprinting, it’s a Marathon!”. We’d like to say with emphasis: “This is not true at all! Learning is nothing like a marathon.” Let us tell you how we think…


Learning never ends
Marathon has an end when you reach your goal, the marathon is over. This is not applicable to enterprise learning, you never reach the finish line. Enterprise learning is lifelong, when you’ve learned something that’s important for you in your job, there’s a new thing to learn. Think of enterprise learning as a marathon where the finish line moves forward when you think you are about to cross it. There’s also the characteristic of learning that we all know: once you’ve learned what you set out to learn, your newfound knowledge makes you realize there’s much more to learn. Unlike marathon and sprinting, Learning never ends.

Learning is not done at consistent pace
In marathon the ideal race is done at a pace that is pretty much the same mile per mile over the entire race. This is not quite the way enterprise learning works, unfortunately, sometimes there are external factors that forces you to learn more rapidly than your would like to, for example when a new process or technology is introduced or when new regulations are introduced. This means you’re forced to learn at a much higher pace than is ideal. Learning is, unfortunately, not done at a consistent pace.

Learning is not one activity, you need to rest
In both a marathon, and in sprinting all you do is that one very specific activity. You sprint or you run your marathon at a sustainable pace. But in learning in order to learn, you have to not learn. Or rather, not learning is crucial to learning. Or maybe, not learning is learning. Let us explain what we mean, one model for how the brain learns is “acquisition, consolidation, recall”. You acquire your learning, you make the learning a stable memory, and you recall it for use. The consolidation phase happens during rest and sleep and as such is vital to for you to be able to make sense and be able to use and reuse what you’ve learned. Unlike marathon and sprinting, Learning requires rest.

Learning is not for learning’s sake 
The purpose of a Marathon is to run a Marathon. You run a Marathon to run 26 miles and 385 yards (that’s 42,195 km for us Euros) as fast as possible for you. That’s not the case when it comes to learning: the purpose of learning is, in real life, applying what you’ve learned. Learning is a means, not an end. For example: as a developer you go through cybersecurity strategic learning at Collegial in order to be able to build systems that are hardened towards attack vectors. It is not to learn about cybersecurity in order to know it. This is a common mistake we learning people do, we care so much about the means (learning) that we finally confuse it with the end. And understanding the purpose of learning is very important in enterprise learning, your learning initiative should ensure that the learner has the opportunity to apply their learning in order not to fall into the “scrap trap”; where you learn but since you don’t have the opportunity to apply the your knowledge, the learning becomes what’s known as scrap learning.

Learning does not have a set course
When you run a Marathon, the course is set. You know that in the Berlin Marathon you will at 17 kilometers come to a park and have to turn right. In learning the course changes as you move along the course, in the midst of learning about Machine Learning, the technology landscape changes and where you think you were turning left, you need to turn right. It also might be that new knowledge extends the learning course, new knowledge in the field you’re learning in requires additional learning. Not only does the course change shape, it changes length. Learning does not have a set course.

So what is learning then?
We think we have made a case for learning not being a Marathon. “But, ”, you might ask, “if it’s not a marathon, pray tell me: what is it?”. The simple answer is that learning is not a marathon, it's training for a marathon. You run (learn) at different speeds, you run (learn) differently and with different purposes, you run (learn) in order to achieve something, resting and recuperating is part of the process, you adjust as you progress, and most of all, once you're done, you start all over again.

So next time you hear someone saying "Learning is not sprinting, it's a marathon!", just tell them, "Well actually, it's not... Learning is like training for Marathon."