(mis)use of the term "Learning Curve"
Why doesn’t anyone use the term “learning curve” correctly? Almost everyone you hear uses it in the complete opposite sense of what I’m sure they believe they are saying. You know what I’m talking about, someone says that “boy, 3D Studio Max sure does have a steep learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it’s awesome”.
Wow. I'd never thought of it that way. I suspect the term "learning curve" now has an additional definition, meaning "level of effort required to achieve basic useful knowledge." Thus "steep" conveys the idea that there's a significant amount of effort required to "climb" it.
Part of the beauty of the term "steep learning curve" is that it conjures in the mind the idea of scaling a high wall as a metaphor for learning a difficult task.
Isn't this also the case with the 80/20 rule? That's another one that conjures a lot of great images, but the original meaning was completely different from how most people use it.
“The game of Cup-with-ball-on-string has a steep learning curve.”
So thaaat explains it!
A Learning Curve plots time spent on the horizontal axis and ability on the vertical axis. So if it is almost flat, you put in a lot of time to get a small increase in ability. If it is steep, a small investment in time results in a large increase in ability. So "steep learning curve" really means something is easy to learn, although people often mean the opposite when they use that phrase.
This has been a pet peeve of mine forever!!! Thanks, cheeto. I glad someone finally mentioned it.
This question comes up fairly often on alt.usage.english. See:
T. Norman wrote: "A Learning Curve plots time spent on the horizontal axis and ability on the vertical axis. "
"I could care less"
And the horse you rode in on
you dog, I think it is universally accepted convention to plot time on the x axis.
that was supposed to be "Yo dog"
I think the typical usage of learning curve is correct, and they are not referring to a straight line effort versus.
Here is the actual formula:
I always thought of it as plotting effort (y) against result (x). Something with a steep rise requires lots of effort at that point (usually the start) before you have any results. Something with a more flat learning curve gives you a lott of result without much learning efforts.
Just me (Sir to you)
tapiwa wrote: "you dog, I think it is universally accepted convention to plot time on the x axis. "
Just me (Sir to you)
I don't think we are ever likely to reverse the use of 'steep learning curve'. WIthout getting into original references, you could plot Effort on the Y axis (in which case steep means difficult) or on the X (in which case steep means easy). Most people are gong to associate steep with hard, so we had better stick to it.
As someone whose degree is in psychology (I focused on cognition, perception, and neurobiology, not that "here's my leather couch, now tell me about your childhood" stuff), I can confirm T. Norman's assertion that learning curves are plotted with time (or something analogous, such as number of experimental trials) on the X axis and increasing capability on the Y axis. I'm not sure I could quickly locate a definitive source to substantiate this claim, only that every piece of primary research I can recall, as well as every textbook, lecture, etc. on the topic, has followed this convention. (It's perhaps so ingrained in the literature of learning and memory that it's considered unworthy of explicit comment.) There's a logic to it as well, insofar as time is the independent experimental variable (X) and learning is the dependent one (Y, with higher performance being plotted further up the vertical axis, as you would expect).
Great points, David. One of my personal favorites is "I could care less", when of course the real intent is "I could not care less" (i.e., I already care so little it's impossible to care less; incidentally, does this imply that caring is quantized? ;-).
"You can't underestimate" is being used in the sense of you "mustn't underestimate". Think of "you can't go to the board meeting dressed as a pink rabbit".
David, to paraphrase Neil Armstrong a quantum leap may be a small step for you but it's a hell of a jump for an electron!
In a the X axis is Quantity of Knowledge, the Y axis is the time to learn. A steep learning curve is where it takes a long time to learn the initial portion of the thing that you are trying to learn. Therefore, most people use it correctly.
Eh, happens all the time, same way 'showstopper' has been completely corrupted. Both defs here: http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=showstopper
Tim Sullivan: sorry, time elapsed is traditionally considering the ultimate in independent variables, and thus, conventionally placed on the x-axis.
"I could care less" is defensible. You can't apply strict rules of logic to idiom. See:
Okay, I give up. What's wrong with "I'm going to try and..."?
People often say things like "I'm going to try and fix this" when they should say "I'm going to try to fix this." The only time you should use 'and' is when the trying and the other thing are two separate events, like "I'm going to try [to do whatever it was we were just talking about] and then I'll tell you how I did." (Actually, it's OK to say it, same as 'gonna', but looks bad when written.) Bugs me almost as much as people saying "He should of" instead of "He should have", as in "He should of left it alone." Then again, my boss is from PA and says things like "The car needs washed" instead of "The car needs to be washed", which is one construction I'll *never* get my head around. Excuse me--around which I'll never get my head. :-) Just remember what the man said--"This is the sort of English up with which I will not put." ( http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/churchill.html )
One which I hate which I've seen around here is "my bad" as in "sorry, my bad". That's not English!
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