College/Learning Curves


Subject: College/Learning Curves
From: Ian Stewart (stewart@econtact.ca)
Date: Fri Sep 30 2005 - 19:54:21 EDT


 --> ...Usually though, their ears and attitudesĀ  helped them through the
rather steep learning curve.... <--

Off-topic, but a 'steep learning curve' originally meant something was
easily learned- a learning curve measured the cost/time in performing a task
(y-axis) versus the number of times you'd done it (x-axis). A normal
learning curve therefore slopes downwards (assuming you improve at something
with repetition, or 'learning'), and the steeper it is, the faster you
arrive at a low cost or time to perform the set task. Likely people have
assumed (naturally enough) that a learning curve is a bit like a hill to
climb when picking up a new skill, and that the steeper it is, the more
arduous is the learning. Some moderately interesting details here:

http://computing-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/learning+curve

I find it interesting that terms like 'quantum leap' and 'steep learning
curve' often take on the opposite meaning in popular usage from their
original scientific meaning, and I wonder whether this phenomenon is unique
to terms borrowed from science?- probably not, but I can't think of other
examples. I do sometimes have to guess what's meant when someone tells me,
for example, that they found SuperCollider had a steep learning curve...

Anyway, please forgive the linguistic pedantry!

all the best,
Ian



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