I bet you’ve used the phrase, “steep learning curve.” But do you really know what it means?
In this video, we’ll explain exactly what learning curves are and we’ll reveal how they can prepare you for times of challenge and change.
Think back to when you had to learn something new at work. Remember how tough it felt to begin with, but then, just a few months later, you were working quickly and confidently again. You might have even wondered why you struggled so much at the start.
Well, here’s the explanation, you were on a learning curve, and by understanding this you can make some valuable predictions about learning and its impact on your business.
Here’s a classic example of a learning curve focused on productivity. The time it takes to produce a unit of something is plotted on the vertical axis, the number of units produced is shown on the horizontal axis. The more units people make, the faster they get at making them, so there’s a downward slope on the graph.
Yes! Despite what the phrase, “a steep learning curve” implies, learning curves actually focus on things getting easier.
Let’s say you lead a team that makes purses by hand and you’ve just introduced a new design. Your people will have to make quite a few of these purses before they’ve mastered the new style. But, when they have, productivity levels and manufacturing times should level out and a learning curve can help you predict how this process of learning and change will go.
Here’s another learning curve graph. The curve is steeper because learning is happening faster. Perhaps these units are machine-produced, so the skills needed to make them are easier to learn, or maybe this company is just better at supporting people’s learning.
You can draw learning curves in other ways, too. Here, the more experience people have of a new task, the more proficient they are, so the line goes up. And, once again, the steeper the curve, the faster the learning.
So, how can drawing learning curves like these be beneficial for business?
First, learning curves can help with forecasting resource needs. Say, a carpentry firm decides to change one of its manufacturing processes. For a while, workers are bound to make more mistakes than usual. A learning curve might help their managers estimate how much spare timber to order.
Learning curves can be useful when you’re working out staffing plans. If you are redesigning your sales app, a learning curve might show that you’ll need more customer service staff while users get to grips with the new system.
Learning curves are useful for planning training and support. They help you predict when learning will feel hardest so you can offer additional help. They also remind you that people need enough time to practice new skills before they feel fully confident.
Learning curves are good for reassuring people. They prepare people for the fact that unfamiliar tasks will feel harder and they show managers why their teams may be working more slowly for a while.
Finally, learning curves are good for spotting problems during times of change. If efficiency doesn’t come back up as predicted, or people lack confidence for longer than expected, you know to do something about it.
Discover more about learning curves and other ways to understand and support development and change, by reading the article that accompanies this video.