We have all heard of learning curves before but what does it actually mean in relation to the average student? There are two definitions in the Cambridge dictionary explaining it out pretty simply. A learning curve is “the rate at which someone learns a new skill” and a steep learning curve is “a situation in which someone has to learn a lot in a short period of time.” How can you use a learning curve to your advantage?
Normally learning curves are used to measure a student’s progress against an average. It is meant to provide an idea of how long it takes to learn a skill in combination to how long it will take to master that skill. This is a great way to track your students’ progress and an even better way to reflect on your teaching style and lessons. If you graph out your class progress and you see that the average is uniform and fairly balanced you are in the clear, but what if only a few students are grasping the content? Or you see that the bulk of the class is on track with the subject at first but then they start to taper away? This is a good way to help you re-evaluate how you present the information to your class and can help pin point which parts of a subject is lacking or excelling.
A steep learning curve can be tough. In this case it is not about the students but more about the content. When there is a steep learning curve the concepts are usually more difficult to grasp. I was surprised to learn that the definition of a steep learning curve has changed over the years. A steep curve was originally a positive reference. A steep learning curve meant that a student became very proficient at a skill with a minimum amount of effort/time. It later changed to what it means today, that something is difficult to learn.
These are only a couple of ways to use a learning curve to gauge your class and your teaching methods, but I would love to hear how you use the learning curve in your career and how it helps you teach better. I welcome your feedback and anticipate hearing your thoughts.