Learning Curve – Understanding the Pattern of Learning


Learning is essential for adapting to change and enhancing performance and capabilities. The learning curve illustrates that acquiring new knowledge often initially decreases performance due to the increased time and effort required, especially at the beginning. Over time, as we persist and develop new skills, our performance improves, often surpassing previous levels. This process involves stepping out of our comfort zones, facing failures, and sometimes unlearning old habits.


The learning curve is a framework for understanding the learning process. It helps us view learning as a journey that takes time and effort, which may result in initial failure or a temporary decline in performance. This understanding makes us more effective and agile learners.


We need to keep learning new things to handle change and improve our performance and capability. The learning curve is a map of the learning process, acknowledging that acquiring new knowledge doesn’t immediately boost performance. Instead, it often leads to a temporary drop in performance because learning new things requires more time and effort, especially at the beginning. As we continue to learn and develop new capabilities, our performance improves, even surpassing previous levels. It's crucial to remember that becoming proficient at new things takes time and effort. Learning involves doing things we're not used to and stepping out of our comfort zone. So, the learning curve advises against expecting instant results, emphasizing that acquiring new capabilities is a process. Additionally, this process may involve failure, discomfort, and even unlearning along the way. For example, consider a baby transitioning from crawling to walking. Initially, there are stumbling steps and lots of falls. With time, the baby gains balance and walks more steadily. Eventually, the toddler tries to run, facing stumbles and falling once again. With persistence and support, the toddler learns to run. Similarly, in later stages of life, one may try to run faster or longer, encountering a similar process of building greater capability. Coaches, practice, and experimentation play crucial roles. In learning, we often need resources and support from others who can guide and encourage us. It's essential to adjust our expectations for success or performance. The more significant the capability we aim to acquire, the greater the dip in performance and the time and effort it may require. Stepping outside our comfort zone may be challenging, potentially discouraging people from learning. However, the most agile learners recognize that failure is part of the journey. They are willing to put in the work and stick with the process. This learning-oriented approach is an asset for lifelong growth.

Sample Activity

This framework can be shared visually as theory or via stories. Participants can be asked to reflect and share a story of a challenge they encountered and how they addressed it. This story can be used to draw out the learning curve. Much like the process of learning itself, understanding this model is best done from actual experience.  It can also be drawn out from an experiential activity that asks individuals or groups to take on a new challenge. In addressing the challenge, the group will encounter adversity and failure. In a debrief of the activity, the process of learning can be introduced. 


There are many models for the learning curve. The one described here was developed by the Center for Creative Leadership.

Target Audience:

  • Educators
  • Facilitators
  • Change Agents

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