What is Learning Curve ? - Meaning and Concept


In any environment if a person is assigned to do the same task, then after a period of time, there is an improvement in his performance. If data points are collected over a period of time, the curve constructed on the graph will show a decrease in effort per unit for repetitive operations. This curve is very important in cost analysis, cost estimation and efficiency studies. This curve is called the learning curve. The learning curve shows that if a task is performed over and over than less time will be required at each iteration. Historically, it has been reported that whenever there has been instanced of double production, the required labor time has decreased by 10 or 15 percent or more.

Learning curves are also known as experience curve, cost curves, efficiency curves and productivity curves. These curves help demonstrate the cost per unit of output decreases over time with the increase in experience of the workforce. Learning curves and experience curves is extensively used by organization in production planning, cost forecasting and setting delivery schedules.

Learning Curve on Graph

Learning curve demonstrates that over a period time, there is an increase in productivity but with diminishing rate as production increases. Therefore, if the rate of reduction is 20% than the learning curve is referred as 80% learning curve. Research has shown that as production quantities double over a period of time, the average time decreases by 20% for immediate production unit.

Learning curve is relevant in taking following decision:

  • Pricing decision based on estimation of future costs.
  • Workforce schedule based on future requirements.
  • Capital requirement projections
  • Set-up of incentive structure

Learning Curve from Single Unit Data

The data for effort put into production of a single unit is available than that data can be used to plot three useful curves; the unit curve, the cumulative total and cumulative average curve.

Unit curve is a curve which is plotted using a set of data available for the effort behind production of a single unit. This curve is generally plotted on log-log paper and then best line can be drawn.

Cumulative total curve is a curve which is plotted using cumulative effort total. This produces curve with positive slope.

Cumulative average curve is a curve which is plotted using the cumulative effort average for each unit.

Assistance Score Learning Curve

As the name suggests an assistance score is the number of help, hint, wrong attempts recorded for a given opportunity at the given task. From detailed research and analysis, it has been observed that for the 1st opportunity at an average error of 1.3 times is made.

Error Learning Curve

Error learning curve depicts the percentage of assistance asked by the respondents on the 1st opportunity.

Predicted Learning Curve

Predicted learning curve is derived from learning factor analysis, which has the capability in measuring student proficiency, knowledge component difficulty and knowledge component learning rates. This analysis helps in quantifying the learning process.

Criticisms of the Experience Curve

It has been observed that experience curve should not be viewed in isolation. Learning and experience curve has a strong dependency on individuals under observation. If the attitude of the individual is positive, the resulting curve will resemble learning curve but if the attitude of the individual is negative, the resulting curve will not hold good.

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