Re: References to the "Learning Curve"

Subject: Re: References to the "Learning Curve"
From: Beth Agnew <bagnew -at- INSYSTEMS -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 10:14:44 -0400

As I understand and use the term, "steep learning curve" means that one must
master a large volume of knowledge in a short period of time to be
productive. If time = x-axis going this way >, and
information/knowledge/skill is the y-axis going up ^, then a steep learning
curve looks like _/ , a short time with lots of information. A shallow
learning curve of course is then more like ___----- ~~~.
I submit that the chart shows "Productivity", not "Mastery", in that one
must grasp a great deal in order to be productive quickly. With a shallow
learning curve, one could be productive sooner, with less information.

I agree that there is confusion about this term. I think it's because we
tend to forget the third element, what it is we're depicting. One's
interpretation of the chart can be skewed if we are depicting different

> > Would someone on the list please tell me what the "learning curve" looks
> > like. People keep referring to difficult software as having a "steep =
> > learning curve". I have looked in the archives and people have referred
> > to the curve as "short", "sharp", and "slow". I have no idea what these
> > descriptions mean.=20
> >
> > My dictionary reports that its x-axis is Time and its y-axis is Mastery.
> > If that is true, then a "steep" curve means mastery in a short time. A =
> > difficult learning experience would have a "flat" curve, not a "steep" =
> > one. That is, it would take a long time to gain a small amount of =
> > competence.=20

Beth Agnew
Senior Technical Writer, InSystems Technologies Inc.
65 Allstate Parkway, Suite 100 Tel: (905) 513-1400 ext. 280
Markham, Ontario, Canada L3R 9X1 Fax: (905) 513-1419
mailto:bagnew -at- insystems -dot- com Visit us at:

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