A learning curve is a mathematical concept that provides a visual illustration of the learning process and how it improves over time due to learning and developing abilities. According to this theory, learning a new skill or memorizing something will take much less time and effort if practiced repeatedly because competency is attained when the procedure is learned. The learning curve, which is a tool for estimating costs and gauging the effectiveness of manufacturing, was initially introduced by psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885.
The foundation of the learning curve theory lies in the idea that there is an early phase when the time and effort invested in students outweigh the return. However, the return is far more than the investment after overcoming the learning curve. The theory behind this is that the more an individual learns a skill or performs a task, the finer they get at it, which correlates to cheaper training costs and increased productivity over time. The learning curve model makes it easier to monitor training progress, boost output, and forecast learners’ performance and growth over time.
However, the number of hours spent practicing an activity and the final performance do not directly correlate. There will always be particular times for each task when a little practice might result in a huge improvement in production, or where even slight improvements would need a lot of time to perfect. The term ‘learning curve’ refers to the variation in the connection between practice and skill over time.
A percentage indicating the improvement pace is generally used to represent a learning curve. A steeper slope denotes initial learning that results in higher costs in the graphic illustration of a learning curve. In comparison, successive learnings result in a higher slope that shows improved performance and cost-effectiveness.
Understanding the learning curve in detail
The learning curve goes by various names, including the efficiency curve, the experience curve, the productivity curve, or the cost curve. This is because the learning curve offers cost-benefit analyses and a deep understanding of the aforementioned business areas.
The rationale is that every person, regardless of status, needs time to master a certain task or function. The product that goes along with it requires much time to develop. The time required for a unit of output decreases as a result of the worker learning how to do the activity rapidly via repetition of the task.
Learning curves frequently include percentages that show the pace of growth. A 90% learning curve, for instance, indicates that the average manufacturing time per unit increases by 10% every time the total amount is doubled. The percentage indicates how much time will be carried over to subsequent iterations of the work when productivity is doubled.
What formula can be used to calculate the learning curve?
The cumulative average time per unit can be determined using a formula for the learning curve, Y = aX^b, where ‘Y’ is the average cumulative time per unit or batch, and ‘a’ is the time spent producing the first amount. ‘X’ is the total number of production units or batches, whichever is greater, while ‘b’ is the slope or learning curve index, which is determined by dividing the logarithm of the learning curve percentage by the logarithm of two.
The curve of learning — shapes and types
Visual representations of learning curves can take many different forms. They can be seen using a chart and linear coordinates, when the form is a real curve. In a chart, a learning curve can alternatively be shown as a straight line or as a band of points between the axis points. Higher degrees of improvement are indicated by lower learning curve percentages. Therefore, the slope of graphs will be steeper the smaller the learning curve percentages.
Which variables affect a learner’s learning curve?
Depending on the skill that is being learned, some students exhibit greater determination. Some of them practice harder. Others are more tenacious. However, there are many factors that affect learning something, and they all influence how quickly a new talent is picked up. Each of the most common factors is discussed below in detail:
Impact of age on the learning curve: When trying to learn a new skill, the age of the learner plays a major role. Some people find it easier to learn a task as they grow older. For example, learning the alphabet and numbers might seem easy as an adult, but in childhood, it requires a lot of effort and repetition. Conversely, other tasks become more challenging as individuals age. For example, learning to play badminton or learning a new language for a teenager is easier than for an adult as they require more effort. When discussing the learner’s age, it is important to highlight that the skill being learned must be age appropriate to make the learning process easier and quicker.
Impact of the student’s personality on the learning curve: A student’s personality can directly or indirectly shape their learning capabilities. Thus, personality traits may be reflected in learning preferences, which in turn inspire learning approaches and result in a certain learning outcome. Because every student has a unique personality, their ability to learn something might also greatly differ from another individual’s. Some people are more extroverted and outgoing. They are willing to take risks and are not afraid of failure. Such people tend to learn a skill more quickly compared to those who are introverted and shy away from learning new things.
Impact of practice and experience on the learning curve: The process of learning through performing a task is known as learning through practice and experience. Students are better able to relate concepts and information taught in the classroom to actual circumstances when they are involved in practical activities and reflection. Although practice and experience can be used interchangeably, they are slightly different from one another. Experience means that you already have knowledge of a certain skill, or you learned it in the past, whereas practice refers to repeating a newly or previously learned skill until you gain expertise in it. Practice and experience will definitely make it easier to learn or re-learn, because a person who has some knowledge of a skill will have to put in less effort.
Impact of students’ motivation on the learning curve: Motivation is a crucial factor affecting an individual’s learning curve. Whether or not students are motivated determines whether learning will be successful. Learners attain learning goals through motivation. Acknowledging that a key component of effective teaching is inspiring students to learn is crucial. This suggests that the most crucial aspect of learning is likely the students’ motivation. Motivation is a key predictor of student success, in addition to being crucial in and of itself. Students who are more motivated to study put in greater effort and persevere longer in order to do better in class and on standardized exams. Making school more enjoyable for students seems crucial to educational improvement, since motivation motivates learning. The good news is that research suggests ‘value interventions’ can be helpful. If teachers can help students recognize the value in their learning, it can increase interest in the subject being studied, engagement, and success.
Impact of cognitive abilities and general aptitude on the learning curve: Because every student is unique, so are their individual cognitive abilities and general aptitude to learn a skill. Both are highly dependent on many factors, including birth weight, socioeconomic status, nutrition level, genetics and environmental factors. Although one can work on improving these, it is only possible to enhance these to a certain extent.
Impact of teacher and teaching methods on the learning curve: The way a teacher teaches and the methods they employ to teach is also a key factor that influences the learning curve. If the teacher is qualified and possesses the right skills and experience to teach a skill to students, they are more likely to teach their students in a way that they can better understand what is being taught. Teachers can improve their skills by acquiring a Master of Arts in Education degree. Universities like Exeter in the UK also offer an online education MA for those aspiring teachers.
Teachers often use tools and aids that help them in teaching better, such as pictures, presentations, videos, etc. As a result, students learn better. Lastly, there are various approaches that a teacher might use to deliver knowledge, such as lecture-based, group-based, technology-based, kinesthetic approach, etc. Depending on what is being taught, the method used can affect the learning curve.
Different types of learning curves
Based on the different learning experiences, there is more than one type of curve that may form, which are as follows:
- Diminishing returns
- Increasing returns
- The S-curve
- Complex curve
The many advantages of a learning curve
Apart from using the learning curve for learning only, it can also be used to understand the relation of different concepts. The learning curve model makes it easier to monitor training progress, increase output, and forecast learners’ performance and growth over time. Some of the main advantages are described below.
- Improved comprehension of the progress of employees — comparing various learning curves aids in better understanding an employee’s learning of a certain activity, allowing businesses to tailor training accordingly. The learning curve makes building strategies to increase employee or departmental production easier.
- Strategic planning — companies aware of their employees’ hourly wages may calculate the cost of generating a single unit of output based on the number of hours required. A successful employee who is in a good position should eventually lower the firm’s costs per output unit. The learning curve may help businesses plan their logistical, production and cost strategies.
- Promoting a culture of learning — the learning curve aids in employee motivation by fostering a climate of continuous learning and training assessment.
- Improving judgements and decision making — the learning curve assists in spotting trends that may be used to produce more accurate future projections and business-related decisions.
What is the significance of the learning curve?
In a general sense, a learning curve is a very useful tool that can help monitor and calculate learners’ progress when they are learning a new concept or skill over time. The learning curve model makes it easier to monitor training progress, increase output, and forecast learners’ performance and growth over time. This tool is used in schools and colleges and professional settings such as higher-end companies and organizations. Apart from learning, the learning curve is also used to track the company’s and its workforce’s performance for any set duration. All this information can be used by companies to identify the root cause of a certain problem occurring in an organization.
How to read a learning curve?
It is very easy to comprehend a learning curve. A steep or low curve points toward the fact that it will take significant time and resources to carry out an initial task. Moreover, it highlights that continuous repetition and practice of the same task will take less time as it will become easier for them. On the other hand, a higher learning curve denotes to a business that learning a skill might need some serious training but that it is highly likely that an employee will quickly learn it and become an expert in it over time. For students, a higher slope shows how practicing a specific concept will eventually take less time and effort to complete a task assigned by the teacher.
A learning curve is a concept based on a theory, but it has become a useful tool in the field of education as well as in the field of business. A learning curve is used in an academic setting to understand students’ academic performance and learning abilities. It also helps to identify where students need more attention.