What Leads to a Learning Burnout?

January 28, 2020 by Ajda Turk

My thinking on burnout was inspired by a Slovene columnist Miha Mazzini and his recent column on burnout, the title of which translates as We can no longer do it. People are exhausted. We need help. His ideas on burnout and what people do to prevent it made me think – what about a learning burnout? Can we experience it, and what leads to it?

Miha is just one of the thinkers on the topic. There are many more. Long ago, my professor at the university experienced a burnout and was one of the first in the country who publicly started to talk and write about it. At that time, the doctors didn’t know or didn’t want to talk about burnout, only depression, which, of course, is not the same disease. I write disease on purpose, because burnout is still a taboo subject. Admitting to a burnout at work is tantamount to career suicide for some people; for some organizations, it is like raising a white flag in the war for talent. But let’s put this war thing aside. All those stories of people around me made me question: how do we experience a learning burnout?

I searched for articles on learning burnout. The first results showed quite many articles on students’ learning burnout – nowhere than Asia. A surprise? Not really. Studies focus on the psychological factors leading to learning burnout of university students, such as personality, egoism, concept of blame accepting or denying, ability to cope with stress, self-control ability, motive of studying, the feeling of loneliness, etc. Universities are not the only place where learning burnout can happen. The resources mention vocational learning burnout as well, which can be (besides university studies) any on-the-job training, workshop at work or other career development initiative.

On one hand, through learning we can avoid or get healed from a burnout; on the other hand, the learning itself can lead to it. Where is this diametrality coming from? In my opinion, it comes from defining what learning really means to us, how we perceive it, and do we understand the flow of internal strengths.

I often hear people say things like “I learned something new by studying a new book”, “I attended a learning event”, “There are too many resources to go through”, “We are loaded with too much information”, “Learning can be so difficult”, etc. I call this rational learning, where the pre-frontal cortex of the brain is predominant, and the energy flow is limited to our thinking and reasoning. Much less often do I hear how someone has, through self-reflection and/or relationships, learned about themselves and others; how experiencing new situations and solving challenges differently has taught new behaviors and ways of living and working. I call this social-emotional learning. Is this learning? For me, it definitely is. It is the primary reason for our existence, an internal force (motive) to help us survive and move forward.

When we understand learning as another way of ‘working’, mental and physical energy can be consumed and reduced to its lowest level. For sure, when we study for an exam without any break, the level of oxygen and glucose can be exhausted, which results in lower brain activity: limited memory and reduced concentration. This kind of (rational) learning can lead to a learning burnout. However, if we perceive learning as a flow of mental, physical and psychological strengths, when a person senses and understands when to mentally stop and just do nothing, it may turn out a completely different story. We learn from experience when is the time to quiet down. We learn to listen our intuition (the sixth sense) to know which direction to go. Self-reflection teaches us about our feelings, fears, strengths and mental models. We understand our own way of thinking (cognition), who we are, and how we articulate it to the outside world. Experiencing the strengths of learning helps us voice it, so that also others can start learning from us and never experience a learning burnout.

How do you experience learning? More as a rational or a social-emotional process? Or both? What do you do to avoid a learning burnout?


Add Your Comment

Comments powered by Disqus