What is a steep learning curve?

A steep learning curve is an expression that is often used in colloquial speech to describe the initial difficulty of learning something that is considered to be very challenging. The implication is that learning will be slow and arduous.

The concept of a “steep learning curve” is more of a metaphor that most likely represents a common perception that going up a steep hill is slower than going up a long, shallow incline.

In a real-life application of the term to the learning curve model, a steep curve on a learning curve actually implies that there is an initial period of fast learning - Not slow learning. Here’s why:

In a learning curve, the rate of progression is measured against time.

  • If the curve was steep, as in the Blue graph, it would show that the learner is making rapid progression over a short period of time. This means that the learner is mastering the skill or task quickly.
  • The Red graph displays what a learning curve would look like if the learner was having a slow and difficult time to learn the skill or task. The curve would actually appear to be shallow and long. This is because the learner requires more practice or attempts before a performance begins to improve.

Comparison of the steep learning curve and shallow learning curve graphs. The steep learning curve displayed as a rapid progression, with the huge spike in the beginning and then reaches a plateau. The shallow learning curve displayed as a long progression which increasing slowly over time and reaches its pick over time.

You can learn more about the learning curve in the original article.