January 20, 2021
One concept used often in education is the idea of a learning curve. A term like ‘learning curve’ lets us visualize the learning process and see how even though something is hard to understand at first, it can become easier afterward. Likewise, we can see that things that may be easy to pick up at the beginning, can later turn out to be more complicated than we had imagined.
In this article, we will take a look at learning curves. We’ll first ask ourselves, “What is a learning curve?” We’ll then see how learning curve meanings are relevant to today’s workplace learning outcomes and learning environment. When possible, we’ll look at how to learn best from real-world situations.
A learning curve gives a graphical depiction of learning a particular task over time. In a typical instructional curve graph, the horizontal x-axis represents the time or number of attempts, while the vertical y-axis represents performance at the task.
There are a few recognizable shapes that the learning curve theory follows. The first is a diminishing-returns curve, which has a line that rapidly increases at the beginning but flattens out at the top. Another is the increasing-returns learning curve, which starts off slowly rising at the beginning but ends in a rapid increase. The third type of learning curve is the S-curve, which starts slowly increasing before rising rapidly, only to level off at the end. One more type of curve is a complex curve, which shows a more realistic pattern of development that can be slow or fast at different times.
In this type of curve, we can see that a task is easy to learn at the beginning but eventually plateaus. This can mean that a learner has either reached the limit of learning at this task or that they have become disinterested in doing better. At this point, they need some new active or experiential learning stimulus to reach the next level.
This curve that starts slowly before taking off can occur for a few different reasons. It can be that a task is very complicated to understand at first, but once a few difficult concepts are understood, then things become easy. There also could have been some additional pedagogical intervention, such as gamification, that caused the learner to suddenly become interested, resulting in a learning curve steep and tall.
This curve combines elements of the other two. It can represent a task that takes time to learn but accelerates quickly after that until another difficulty is faced. This type of curve should be made steeper by addressing the lulls when the learner is either not engaged or can’t understand topics that are too difficult.
A complex curve can show different speeds of student pedagogy until a skill is mastered. Once a skill is mastered, it can still keep moving. This type of curve is more realistic, especially for corporate training environments where learners have to negotiate various priorities in addition to their learning requirements.
Now that we’ve defined what a learning curve is and seen some different shapes for learning curves, you may be wondering what the point of having them is. Let’s take a minute and see why it matters to use learning curves.
Learning curves can be a good way to measure performance that allows learners and stakeholders to see forward progress. This gives a psychological boost to the learner because they can graphically see the results of their hard work.
Learning curves also help in forecasting how learners should progress through a course on average. We should expect that a certain amount of knowledge will be gained in each lesson of a course. This allows us to design learning strategies that move at an orderly rate that is neither too fast nor too slow for average learners.
So, we can now see why using the concept of learning curves can be advantageous. Let’s go on to see how applying learning curves in an online training course can be done effectively.
To see how we can keep learners progressing through their individual learning curves in a positive way and achieve their learning objectives, let’s see how it is done with EdApp, a popular LMS. One of the features of EdApp that can help improve your team’s learning experiences is the Brain Boost feature. The approach to learning takes place through daily quizzes that are intended to help learners improve their critical thinking and retain the information that they have learned and achieve mastery. It uses the concept of spaced repetition to ensure that learners are reminded of prior knowledge they have learned in the past.
Spaced repetition is a technique that uses an algorithm to determine when the best time to review a concept is. It typically reminds a user at increasing intervals after the concept has already been presented. The better the learner is at remembering the concept, the less likely it will appear in spaced repetition learning activities.
Brain Boost takes the form of a short quiz that takes the same amount of time each day. Its regularity helps move learning from short-term cognition to long-term memory. It also goes along well with the concept of microlearning.
Microlearning makes sure that topics that learners find difficult are repeated more often. That will keep your learners on a steep learning curve with an upward trajectory, instead of on a shallow learning curve upwards slope.
It also helps keep learners engaged so that they can complete the course. Oftentimes, if a learner encounters a topic that is too difficult, they might drop out of the course. By using microlearning and EdApp’s Brain Boost feature, however, learners will have multiple chances to understand, to remember, and then embed new knowledge into their long-term memory.
With these features, you can see how mapping out your learners’ progress over time can resemble the upward learning curves described in the previous section. That’s why using an LMS like EdApp and a visual tool like learning curves can give you a good insight into how your learners are gaining the essential skills they need to perform their duties.
In this article, we’ve seen what learning curves are all about. We’ve seen how they can be generalized into 4 different patterns, and what each pattern means for different learning-style. We then considered why visualizing the learning process as learning curves can be advantageous in effective learning.
Lastly, we saw an example of an LMS with features that can help aid learners and to teach them in achieving a positive learning curve. By using an LMS like EdApp, your learners should never fall behind in their training.
Daniel Brown is a senior technical editor and writer that has worked in the education and technology sectors for two decades. Their background experience includes curriculum development and course book creation.