04 October 2007

Learning curves

A learning curve
I was thinking about something this morning, and I thought of the saying that something has "a steep learning curve." I started thinking about graphs showing learning.

And realized what a stupid expression that was.

The term "learning curve" comes from psychology. Typically, you plot time on the X axis on the bottom and proficiency (or accuracy, performance, percent correct, or what have you) on the Y axis on the right.

The typical learning pattern is much different from the graph I sketched up for this blog post. Usually, people improve quickly with very little practice, and then it gets harder to get better. The graph I drew goes in the reverse pattern, but it doesn't matter to the point at hand.

When you're getting better at something quickly, the graph shoots up at a steep incline. The closer to vertical, the faster you're learning.

So when you say something is hard to learn, you should really say that thing has a shallow learning curve, not a steep one.

It's strange that I've studied learning and behaviour and such for years, and have used the cliché "steep learning curve" meaning hard for years, but never put the two together until this morning.

Of course, other people have beat me to this realization. But at least I arrived at the insight through my own independent thinking.

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