Learning curves are a natural part of learning any new skill or knowledge. But what exactly are they, and why are they important?

What is a Learning Curve?

The term “learning curve” is commonly used to describe the rate at which someone acquires a new skill or knowledge. In its simplest form, it is a graphical representation that plots the progress of learning against the time or effort invested.

The curve usually starts low, indicating that the initial stages of learning may yield little visible progress. As one continues to invest time and effort, the curve ascends, illustrating increasing proficiency or understanding.

While the basic concept is straightforward, various factors such as individual aptitude, the complexity of the task, and what resources are available can influence the shape.

What is a Steep Learning Curve?

The term “steep learning curve” is often used to describe situations where the learning process is challenging or complex. In this context, “steep” implies that a significant effort and time-frame are needed to make real progress.

Graphically, a steep learning curve typically depicts a sharp ascent, indicating that tangible gains in skill or knowledge can be achieved, but often at the cost of higher initial effort. This is contrary to a flatter curve, where progress is more gradual and easier to achieve.

What are the Benefits of Understanding Learning Curves?

Understanding how to apply  learning curves offers several advantages for your business, especially in the context of employee training and development.

Here is a breakdown of the benefits:

  • Efficient planning: Knowing how quickly skills are gained can help you plan training sessions more effectively. For example, if a learning curve indicates rapid skill acquisition, you might allocate fewer resources to that particular training area.
  • Cost savings: A well-understood learning curve can help you predict the financial resources needed for a training programme. This is especially useful for budgeting and ensures you don’t allocate more funds than necessary.
  • Time management: When you understand how long it takes to master a skill, you can schedule training programs accordingly. This ensures that employees spend their time productively, leading to quicker skill acquisition.
  • Personalised learning: Understanding individual or departmental learning curves allows for a more tailored training approach. This not only improves the training’s effectiveness but also enhances learner engagement.
  • Performance metrics: A learning curve can serve as a baseline to measure the effectiveness of your training programs. Comparing actual performance against the expected learning curve can provide valuable insights into areas for improvement.
  • Resource allocation: Knowing the learning curve helps you allocate resources where they are most needed. Whether it’s more hands-on training or additional eLearning materials, you can make data-driven decisions.
  • Competitive advantage: A well-managed learning curve can speed up the skill acquisition rate within your organisation. A faster learning team can give you a significant advantage in a competitive market.

In addition to these benefits, making expected learning curves visible can also help businesses to improve employee morale and satisfaction. When people see they are learning and getting better at their jobs, they are generally happier and more motivated. This positive attitude can lead to a more productive and engaged workforce.

Learning Curve Examples

Here are a few examples of how learning curves can be observed within digital learning and organisational development. :

Adopting a Learning Management System (LMS)

When a company first implements a new LMS, employees may notice a steep learning curve as they become familiar with the interface and learn how to use the system’s features effectively. With continued use, their proficiency will grow, making it easier to navigate and complete training modules.

Mastering Authoring Tools

Authoring software like Articulate 360 or Vyond requires an initial investment of time and effort to learn. At first, the range of options and functionalities can seem overwhelming. However, as users gain more experience with these tools, they can create increasingly complex and interactive eLearning content.

Transitioning to Remote Work

The shift to remote work has forced many people to adapt to new tools and methods quickly. Initial challenges often include mastering virtual collaboration tools and effective time management. However, with time and practice, these tasks become more routine and second nature.

Insights from Learning Curve Theory

Learning Curve Theory, originally developed in the field of economics and later adopted in educational psychology, is a framework that combines mathematical models with psychological principles to analyse and predict learning performance over time. The theory was first popularised by Theodore Paul Wright in 1936 for the aircraft industry to describe how each unit of production required less effort than the previous one. It has since been widely applied across various industries, including education, healthcare, and information technology.

While delving too much into Learning Curve Theory might feel a bit esoteric for most business owners, it can help you figure out how fast a skill or knowledge can be learned.  This is useful for anyone using digital learning platforms, as it lets you measure and predict how well a training program will work. With this information, you can make better choices for your business, whether it’s training your staff or educating your customers.

Understanding the 70% Learning Curve

The “70% learning curve” refers to the idea that each time you double the number of times a task is performed, it will take 70% of the original time to complete it. In simpler terms, if a job takes 10 hours initially, it would take just 7 hours to do it again.

This concept is more than just a rule of thumb; it has practical implications for how you run your business.

For example, if it takes 10 hours to master the basics of a new eLearning software, then according to a 70% learning curve, it should take 7 hours to reach the same proficiency level when mastering it for the second time.

Understanding the 70% learning curve can help in several ways:

  • Efficiency Gains: Knowing that time or resource investment decreases with repeated tasks allows for better planning and allocation. This is particularly useful in repetitive training scenarios or when rolling out similar training modules across different departments.
  • Budgeting: If you’re aware that the cost of training will decrease at a predictable rate, you can budget more accurately for long-term training initiatives.
  • Performance Benchmarking: The 70% rule offers a standard against which to measure performance improvements over time, providing a clear metric for gauging the effectiveness of your training programs.
  • Scalability: If you’re planning to scale your training program, understanding the 70% learning curve can help predict how efficiently new learners will acquire skills, allowing for more effective scaling strategies.

How Can You Flatten The Learning Curve For Effective Employee Training

Here are some tips to flatten the learning curve for more effective employee training:

  • Provide pre-training materials. This could include articles, videos, or online tutorials that employees can review before their training session. This will give them a basic understanding of the material and help them to get the most out of the training.
  • Break down the material into smaller chunks. This will make it easier for employees to learn and absorb the information.
  • Use a variety of teaching methods. Some people learn best by listening, while others learn best by doing. Use a variety of teaching methods, such as lectures, demonstrations, and hands-on activities, to accommodate different learning styles.
  • Provide opportunities for practice. The more employees practice, the better they will learn. Provide them with opportunities to practice what they are learning during the training session and afterwards.
  • Give feedback. Feedback is essential for learning. Provide employees with feedback on their performance so that they can identify areas where they need to improve.
  • Create a supportive learning environment. Employees are more likely to learn effectively in a supportive environment. Encourage employees to ask questions and to help each other learn.

Maximise the Benefits of Learning Curves with Omniplex Guide

If you’re looking to leverage the full potential of learning curves in your training programmes our digital adoption platform Omniplex Guide can help you to design and deliver optimised learning and development initiatives. Our support, walk-throughs and in-app assistance are designed to boost productivity, and maximise engagement.

To get started get in touch or book a free product tour.