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, there are sometimes external factors that forces you to learn more rapidly than desired. For instance, the introduction of new processes, technologies, or regulations may necessitate accelerated learning. This means you’re forced to learn at a much higher pace than what is considered ideal. Learning is, unfortunately, not done at a consistent pace.

Learning is not one activity, you need to rest

In both marathon running and sprinting, the focus is on performing a specific activity. Whether you sprint or run a marathon, it's important to maintain a sustainable pace. However, when it comes to learning, an interesting paradox arises. In order to truly learn, there are times when you must refrain from actively seeking new knowledge. In other words, not learning becomes an essential part of the learning process. Perhaps, one could even argue that not learning is, in fact, a form of 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 complete the race by running a distance of 26 miles and 385 yards (or 42,195 kilometers for those using the metric system) as quickly as possible. 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 the Strategic Learning Initiative about Cybersecurity in order to be able to build robust systems that are resistant to potential 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. 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 newfound knowledge. This safeguards against falling into the "scrap trap," where learning occurs but lacks practical application. By emphasizing the practical application of knowledge, we can prevent learning from becoming futile or wasted, resulting in what is 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 where you will make a right turn. In learning, the course changes as you move along. 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 believe 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.".