Steep Learning Curve

26 Mar 2012

Steep Hills are hard to climb. Things which are difficult to learn are often said to have a "steep learning curve." This is a misnomer but I may be fighting a losing battle.

Learning curves are drawn with proficiency on the y-axis and time on the x-axis. Learning isn't automatic so it might help to think of time as "time and effort spent on learning".

A good example to internalize how a learning curve works is to imagine learning a foreign langauge. At first you just learn phrases and vocabulary words. After a while you are able to use more and more of what you learn - soon you'll be recognizing patterns which will help you become more proficient faster. After a few years (or decades!) you'll run out of things to learn.

The orange curve represents the learning curve for something that can be learned quickly. It is steeper than the other curves because proficiency increases more quickly.

While I consider the phrase "steep learning curve" to be a technical misnomer I'm afraid it's usage is so common that it is too late for a fight. I may as well be trying to get people to use the word "virtual" to mean "actual."