Answer to "What is a learning curve?"


Topic Editor: Dr. Brent Thoma, University of Saskatchewan


Learning curves are a graphical representation of learners' learning (y-axis) relative to an estimation of their effort (x-axis) which can be used both to guide individual learning and evaluate the progress of learner groups.[1] Measures of effort might include the amount of time spent studying or the number or repetitions of a procedure. Measures of progress could include the proportion of correct responses [2] or the score on a test taken at intervals.[3] Multiple measures of progress can be charted within the same graph.[4] Various regression models with different properties can be used to create the curves. [5]









With individual learners, learning curves are used to demonstrate progress, assess learning rates, and determine when they have achieved mastery.[1] When applied to groups they demonstrate the general pathway towards mastery as well as the variability within a group of learners.[1] Combined, this information can be used prescriptively to target education to learners who are not progressing and to compare the differences in progress between learners exposed to different educational techniques.




  1. Pusic MV, Boutis K, Hatala R, Cook DA. Learning curves in health professions education. Academic Medicine. 2015 Aug 1;90(8):1034-42.

  2. Pusic M, Pecaric M, Boutis K. How much practice is enough? Using learning curves to assess the deliberate practice of radiograph interpretation. Academic Medicine. 2011 Jun 1;86(6):731-6.

  3. Vleuten CV, Verwijnen GM, Wijnen WH. Fifteen years of experience with progress testing in a problem-based learning curriculum. Medical Teacher. 1996 Jan 1;18(2):103-9.

  4. Dinçler S, Koller MT, Steurer J, Bachmann LM, Christen D, Buchmann P. Multidimensional analysis of learning curves in laparoscopic sigmoid resection. Diseases of the Colon & Rectum. 2003 Oct 1;46(10):1371-8.

  5. Käser T, Koedinger K, Gross M. Different parameters-same prediction: An analysis of learning curves. InEducational Data Mining 2014 2014 Jul 4.

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