I wrote a description of exploratory testing and showed it to a new colleague for feedback. In addition to fixing my English grammar (appreciated!), she pointed out that when I wrote on learning while testing, I did not emphasize enough that the learning is really supposed to change the results to be more impactful.
We all learn, all the time, with pretty much all we do. I have seen so many people take a go at exploratory testing the very same application, and what my colleague pointed out really resonated: it's not just learning, it's learning that changes how you test.
Combining many observations into one, I get to watch learning that does not change how you test. They look at the application, and when asked for ideas on what they would do to test it, the baseline is essentially the same and question after each test on what they learned produces reports of observations, not actions on those observations. "I learned that works", "I learned that does not work". "I learned I can do that", "I learned I should not do that". These pieces include a seed that needs to grow significantly before the learning of previous test shows up in the next tests.
It's not that we do design and execution simultaneously, but that we weave them together into something unique to the tester doing the testing. The tester sets the pace, and learning years and years speeds up the pace so that it appears as if we are thinking on multiple dimensions all at the same time.
The testing I did a year ago still helps me with the testing I do today. I build patterns over long times, over various applications, and over multiple organizations offering a space in which my work happens. I learn to be more impactful already during the very first tests, but continue growing from the intellectual push testing gives.
We don't have the answer key to the results we should provide. We need to generate our answer keys, and our skills to assess completeness of those answer keys we create in the moment. Test by test. Interaction by interaction. Release by release. Tuning in, listening, paying attention. Always weaving the rubric that helps us do better, one test at a time.