Learning Curves

Learning Faster to Improve Efficiency

Also Known as Experience Curves

Learning Curves

Efficiency improves with time.

© iStockphoto/kroach

Cast your mind back to when you first began a new job or project. Do you remember grappling with the basics, and taking a long time to get used to new processes and procedures?

Several months down the line, you're so adept at the job you wonder why you ever struggled in the first place.

There is an explanation for this: If you find that your performance improves with experience, and it takes less time and effort to complete a task after you've done it a few times, then you've experienced the 'learning curve' in action.

This learning effect was first described by aeronautical engineer T. P. Wright in 1936, as he studied the time it took to produce airplane parts. He found that as workers gained experience, they were able to produce the parts faster. As workers' experience grew, there was a continuous decrease in the time needed to complete a task. However, the time savings eventually flattened out at a certain point. This indicated that learning was 'complete.'

This is an important concept for business. You can build on this principle so it has a positive impact on the workplace, because working more efficiently saves time and money.

When you understand the learning curve, you can use it to forecast your resource needs more accurately over time. It also helps you prepare for the initial period after you've introduced changes, when productivity tends to be lower than desired. For example, if you install new software, you can probably expect efficiency rates to be low at first. Then, as people use the software more, their productivity increases over time – until their learning rate reaches a plateau.

You can also use the learning curve to identify and establish improvements in processes and procedures. In a manufacturing context, for example, as staff learn to do their jobs more quickly and efficiently, this is likely to lead to qualitative improvements in the way products are designed and engineered.

Business consultancy The Boston Consulting Group studied the learning curve, and concluded three things:

Access the Full Article

This resource is only available in full within the Mind Tools Club.

Learn More and Join Today

Already a Club member? Log in to finish this article.
Add this article to My Learning Plan

Where to go from here:

Join the Mind Tools Club

Click to join Mind Tools
Printer-friendly version
Return to the top of the page

Your Score
Create a Login to Save Your Learning Plan

This ensures that you don’t lose your plan.

Connect with…

Or create a Mind Tools login. Existing user? Log in here.
Log in with your existing Mind Tools details
Lost Username or Password
You are now logged in…

Lost username or password?

Please enter your username or email address and we'll send you a reminder.

Thank You!

Your log in details have been sent to the email account you registered with. Please check your email to reset your login details.

Create a Mind Tools Login
Your plan has been created.

While you're here, subscribe to our FREE newsletter?

Learn a new career skill every week, and get our Personal Development Plan workbook (worth $19.99) when you subscribe.

Thank You!

Please check your Inbox, and click on the link in the email from us. We can then send you the newsletter.