The Learning Curve Visualized: What happens when people give up

Anyone who has become an expert in a field will often be asked by a novice the same inevitable question “How did you become such a great singer, or dancer, or actor, etc”. If you observe carefully, the answer consistently contains something in the fashion of “It’s hard work, you have to earn it.  Nothing comes easily.  If you really want it you can get there too, there’s no secret”.

And I agree, there is no magic secret to become great at anything, it’s all hard work, even when you have a natural talent.

However, that part saying “It’s all hard work” does hold a secret. It’s the secret of how learning works.

Although many people got to the stage of mastery in at least one specific thing in their life, we just tend to forget how it all works. One important success in your life was to stand upright. How ridiculous would you be if you stayed down the learning curve saying “You know what? Screw it! Tired of trying to walk, I’ll just crawl on the floor”? Another major learning success was to ride a bike if you can, to swim if you can, then to get a driving license if you got one by now…It all follows the same pattern, THE LEARNING CURVE.

Phase 1-2-3 is where most people give up thinking "Screw it...I'm tired of this, I am making no progress". PS: I did NOT produce this graph with a Comic font!

I wish this curve was printed in all elementary school books after the cover page (along with basic knowledge of men vs. women communication and behaviour rules) to remind us how learning works. When you feel like putting aside something you’ve spent a lot of time trying to learn, do keep going. In learning, continuing pays off. It may not work in finance when you do bad, nor in romantic relationships, nor in a shitty job, but it works for learning.

Said differently, the Pareto Principle applies: Do I really want to permanently lose 80% of a time investment that yielded 20% of the results, when the next 20% of efforts could yield the missing 80% of the result?!

Sometimes you not only need to be consistent in learning, but also to make changes that will critically allow you to make progress. For instance, if you take a dance class once a week, or anything else in arts, you could do that for ages, progress would be slow until you decide to practice more often. That’s the aw of frequency. So in a nutshell, this article points to what I believe is the top reason why people give up, they have forgotten the law of persistence. There are other laws in learning theory besides persistence and frequency, they’re really good to know. For further reading on the Fundamental Principles of Learning you may start here…I won’t allow you to give up that!

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One thought on “The Learning Curve Visualized: What happens when people give up

  1. The whole principle of it sounds obvious but it deserves to be said, repeated and spread.

    One question: what do the 6 steps represent on the chart?

    YB: Very good question. Maybe the final line before reaching a fairly flat mastery level. I didn’t care much about the phase numbers frankly, found the graph qualitatively appealing.

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