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Larry Browning
02-17-2012, 2:18 PM
Recently I have seen (and used) the terms steep learning curve and shallow learning curve. But I am a bit confused by what these 2 things actually mean to people. I have always assumed that steep learning curve meant that something was easy to learn and it was done very quickly. The "graph" that would represent learning and time would have 2 axis. The vertical axis would represent what was learned and the horizontal axis would represent time. So a steep learning curve would show that a lot was learned in a short amount of time.(easy) On the other hand, a shallow curve would mean that it took lots of time to learn very little.(hard)

But it seems to me that whenever someone say something has a steep learning curve they mean it is very difficult to learn and takes a long time. That would mean that the vertical axis is time and the horizontal axis is amount learned, which doesn't seem logical to me. I always think of time being on the horizontal axis.

What do you think of when someone says something has a steep learning curve?

Or am I thinking too much?

Joe Angrisani
02-17-2012, 2:26 PM
Here's one vote for "Steep Learning Curve" meaning it is hard to learn.

Jim Rimmer
02-17-2012, 2:26 PM
Yep, you're thinking too much. :D Just kidding. What I think of when I hear "steep learning curve" is time on the horizontal axis and proficiency on the vertical axis. The graph line would be nearly horizontal for most of the graph (time) with a steep incline at the end meaning it took a long time to learn but once the light turned on, proficiency increased quickly. Or, alternately, the graph climbs at a steep angle, perhaps 45 degrees, and has a long way to go to reach a high level of proficiency. Maybe we both think too much. :) Whenever most people use it they don't imagine a graph, they just mean whatever is being learned is not easy.

Larry Browning
02-17-2012, 2:57 PM
Here's one vote for "Steep Learning Curve" meaning it is hard to learn.
Why do you think that? Is it because that is how you have heard it used all your life or did you think about it and came to that conclusion?

Larry Browning
02-17-2012, 3:03 PM
Yep, you're thinking too much. :D Just kidding. What I think of when I hear "steep learning curve" is time on the horizontal axis and proficiency on the vertical axis. The graph line would be nearly horizontal for most of the graph (time) with a steep incline at the end meaning it took a long time to learn but once the light turned on, proficiency increased quickly. Or, alternately, the graph climbs at a steep angle, perhaps 45 degrees, and has a long way to go to reach a high level of proficiency. Maybe we both think too much. :) Whenever most people use it they don't imagine a graph, they just mean whatever is being learned is not easy.
Best I can tell you agree with me. What I think you are saying is that the more vertical the line gets the faster you are learning.

I have been having fun talking to others about this subject, but all kidding aside, I have always thought of a steep learning curve as being easy and shallow as hard. Maybe, that is why I misunderstand people so much!

Steve Baumgartner
02-17-2012, 3:30 PM
I agree with you completely. Everyone I have heard uses "steep learning curve" to mean "hard to learn", but I have never been able to make sense of that in terms of a graph. I think maybe "steep hill" got merged onto "learning curve" by someone non-mathematical.

charlie knighton
02-17-2012, 3:35 PM
nobodies learning curve is the same as anyone's else , sometimes the curve is flat, not going up or down, need to keep reaching, when you go to bowls to hf, you do not go to the bottom of curve again, but the level is more than likely below where you are on bowls, etc......

Greg Portland
02-17-2012, 3:40 PM
Recently I have seen (and used) the terms steep learning curve and shallow learning curve. But I am a bit confused by what these 2 things actually mean to people. I have always assumed that steep learning curve meant that something was easy to learn and it was done very quickly. The "graph" that would represent learning and time would have 2 axis. The vertical axis would represent what was learned and the horizontal axis would represent time. So a steep learning curve would show that a lot was learned in a short amount of time.(easy) On the other hand, a shallow curve would mean that it took lots of time to learn very little.(hard)

But it seems to me that whenever someone say something has a steep learning curve they mean it is very difficult to learn and takes a long time. That would mean that the vertical axis is time and the horizontal axis is amount learned, which doesn't seem logical to me. I always think of time being on the horizontal axis.

What do you think of when someone says something has a steep learning curve?

Or am I thinking too much?
X axis = amount learned, Y axis = time/effort. Consider chess... it has a shallow learning curve e.g. it's easy to learn how to play but takes a lifetime to master. On the other hand consider the steep curve of learning how to use a broom; you will quickly learn everything you need to know. Note that many people attribute "steep learning curve" as something that is initially difficult but it really refers to anything where the bulk of all knowledge on the topic is (or needs to be) acquired quickly.

Anthony Whitesell
02-17-2012, 3:48 PM
I think of it as a mountain. Which is more difficult to climb, the steep slope or the shallow slope? I do like Jim Rimmer's explaination using proficiency as the metric.

Sean Hughto
02-17-2012, 3:50 PM
When I hear people use the phrase "steep learning curve," I don't usually take it as a comment on the time it will take to master a skill or body of knowledge, but rather, that they have had to learn a great deal - about whatever the subject - in a very short period of time. I.e., they have suffered - or will need to conquer - a steep curve.

Ben Hatcher
02-17-2012, 4:09 PM
A learning curve describes what it takes to become proficient at something. Time is only a factor in this in as much as the things required to learn something often take time to accomplish. The dimensions of a learning curve are proficiency (x) and amount of learning (y). A steep learning curve means that you have to obtain a lot of learning in order to gain the slightest bit of proficiency.

To put it another way, if time were the only factor, I'd be a fantastic guitar player by now. I've wanted to know how to play for 20 years. Because I have done absolutely nothing to actually learn how to play, study/practice/etc. I have no more proficiency than when I first had the desire to play.

Joe Angrisani
02-17-2012, 4:34 PM
Why do you think that? Is it because that is how you have heard it used all your life or did you think about it and came to that conclusion?

Now you're certainly dancing with Thinking About It Too Much. :)

I say Steep = Hard because a steep slope is harder to climb than a shallow slope (as on Anthony's mountain). Maybe it's an inverse curve or something.

Joel Goodman
02-17-2012, 4:42 PM
I think of it as a mountain. Which is more difficult to climb, the steep slope or the shallow slope?

+1 on that. Steeper is harder to climb. I don't think graphs are relevant. Kind of like "low hanging fruit" -- the most obvious meaning is the one.

Pat Barry
02-17-2012, 9:20 PM
Wouldn't it be that the steeper hill is harder to climb?

Tim Howell
02-17-2012, 9:42 PM
Would dropping your router motor on your foot be a steep learning curve or a flat one?

Larry Browning
02-17-2012, 10:31 PM
From Wikipedia:
Common terms

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8d/Steeplearningcurve1_de.png/100px-Steeplearningcurve1_de.png (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Steeplearningcurve1_de.png) http://bits.wikimedia.org/skins-1.18/common/images/magnify-clip.png (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Steeplearningcurve1_de.png)
Steep learning curve, where learning is achieved very rapidly


The familiar expression "steep learning curve" may refer to either of two aspects of a pattern in which the marginal rate of required resource investment is initially low, perhaps even decreasing at the very first stages, but eventually increases without bound (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Diminishing_Returns).
Early uses of the metaphor focused (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_(psychology)) on the pattern's positive aspect, namely the potential for quick progress in learning (as measured by, e.g., memory accuracy or the number of trials required to obtain a desired result)[5] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_curve#cite_note-4) at the introductory or elementary stage.[6] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_curve#cite_note-5) Over time, however, the metaphor has become more commonly used to focus on the pattern's negative aspect, namely the difficulty of learning once one gets beyond the basics of a subject.
In the former case, the "steep[ness]" metaphor is inspired by the initially high rate of increase featured by the function characterizing the overall amount learned versus total resources invested (or versus time when resource investment per unit time is held constant)—in mathematical terms, the initially high positive absolute value (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_value) of the first derivative (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_derivative) of that function. In the latter case, the metaphor is inspired by the pattern's eventual behavior, i.e., its behavior at high values of overall resources invested (or of overall time invested when resource investment per unit time is held constant), namely the high rate of increase in the resource investment required if the next item is to be learned—in other words, the eventually always-high, always-positive absolute value and the eventually never-decreasing status of the first derivative of that function. In turn, those properties of the latter function dictate that the function measuring the rate of learning per resource unit invested (or per unit time when resource investment per unit time is held constant) has a horizontal asymptote (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horizontal_asymptote) at zero, and thus that the overall amount learned, while never "plateauing" or decreasing, increases more and more slowly as more and more resources are invested.

This difference in emphasis has led to confusion and disagreements even among learned people.

I really like that last part!

Larry Browning
02-17-2012, 10:39 PM
Here is another one I found:
Does a steep learning curve mean learning fast or slowly?



Answer:


Actually, it has little to do with the learner and more to do with how much there is to be learned. The steeper the learning curve, the progressively more difficult the concepts to be mastered are.
- - - - -
Additional: The metaphor "steep learning curve" originally came as a positive reference. A steep learning curve meant that one became quite proficient with a minimum amount of effort/time. It LATER came to be used in the opposite sense - as a negative reference to something difficult to learn (which actually is a shallow, not steep, curve!).

A learning curve is shown as a graph of "amount of learning" in the Y axis and the "amount of time or effort" in the X direction. A relatively 'normal' learning curve would be a sloping 's' curve, with its tail starting at the lower left and progressing to the upper right where the head of the s lies.

In common (technically incorrect) usage, "steep learning curve" is meant to indicate that to learn the subject/technique takes a long time and is difficult.

Best 'pic' I can make with this limited editor (ignore the ∙∙ ):

Proficiency
|∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ___100%
|∙∙ ∙∙ X
|∙ ∙∙ X∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ (a quick/rapid proficiency, a steep slope, = easy)
|∙∙ X
|∙ X
|X____________
Time

Proficiency
|∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ___100%∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙(more time reach 100%)
| ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙X
| ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙X ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ (a slow proficiency, a gentle slope, = difficult)
| ∙∙ ∙∙ ∙∙ X
|X
|_________________________________
Time

Larry Browning
02-17-2012, 10:56 PM
Most of the people I talked to in the office today seemed to think that it meant difficult to learn as in climbing a mountain.
However I also had the opportunity to talk to a couple folks back east (South Carolina and New York) they both said they were unfamiliar with "steep learning curve" they said they were familiar with "long and short learning curve". I thought about that and decided that those terms were a bit more descriptive, and were pretty consistent with my thinking. The steep line is shorter than the shallow line on the graph and I think it is more clear to say a long learning curve implies greater difficulty.