The Trouble with Bulimic Learning


I recently served on a state-wide education commission. In a meeting, a speaker mentioned that one big problem with a primary focus on standardized testing alone was that it led to “bulimic learning.”

While a bit graphic, I think it was a great point not just for educational institutions but for business too. We gorge on information, spew it out for a test or project. A few months later, we may struggle to recall much of this information.

When we engage in bulimic learning we do little to grow and prepare for the days, weeks, and years ahead.

A former colleague of mine, Aaron Wheeler, taught English in Japan for a couple of years after college. While we all hear about how Japanese students often outperform American students on standardized tests, Aaron told me he would never (yes, he said it with emphasis) want his children to attend Japanese schools. He said that everything was built to accomplish high test scores, not post-school success. In other words, bulimic learning. Learn, test, forget.

Think how often we all learn something in a cram session for a test, a job interview, or a project. How well can you remember these things later if not reinforced?

Bulimic learning may have a place for a few tasks, but the real discipline of growth is to think beyond the most immediate test, interview, or project. If done properly, even the “tests” are lessons. Don’t only look for the score or whether or not you were hired or the project completed. Learn what worked well and what didn’t. Let the tests of business and life be part of the process of learning, not just a score.


Glenn S. PhillipsGlenn S. Phillips is the author of the book Nerd-to-English: Your Everyday Guide to Translating Your Business, Your Messages, and Yourself.  You can email Glenn directly at

Glenn is also the president of Forte’ Incorporated, a consulting firm that works with business leaders to understand and address the often hidden technology and business risks lurking within their organizations.

© Copyright 2013. Glenn S. Phillips, Forte’ Incorporated. (205) 985-1111


About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.