Monday, May 18, 2015

Words of Importance - Learning Curve

I am sure you must have experienced this. There are those times when a word keeps jumping up at you. You hear it from one friend and, then, it pops up in an email, screams from a news article and thumbs its nose at you from a hoarding. Well, recently, it seemed as though some divine commandment had gone out to everyone - "Thou shalt slip in the phrase 'learning curve' if you happen to be in the vicinity of Suresh". The damned phrase made itself so ubiquitous that I had to write about it.

In my youth (Yup! Long gone! I think I have told that many times before, so it is not like I am masquerading as a young man like the cine-stars of my times were wont to do), this phrase was actually used to describe a concept. The curve used to act like a plane taking off - taxiing, a tentative ascent,  a steep ascent tapering off till it became a straight line almost parallel to the ground. (X-Axis? What is that?) Apparently, when you start off learning any new thing, you start off with slow learning, then your incremental gains in knowledge are very high; the quantum of fresh learning keeps decreasing as you learn more and more, till you reach a point where you learn nothing new in that area. THAT, apparently, was the learning curve and people, especially those who loved jargon, used to talk of where you were on the learning curve.

For me, they not only had made the curve steep, they seemed to have greased it as well. Every time I tried going up the damn thing, I only found myself slipping further back than my starting point. (You disagree? You think that when I start off knowing nothing, how could I possibly slip further back? Shows how little you know. There is a difference between starting off knowing nothing while thinking you can learn and starting off knowing nothing and despairing of ever being able to learn. You would, of course, say that the latter is an improvement in my case since I had, at least, rid myself of the illusion that I could learn) They had ensured that they catered to people like me as well. The learning curve was not something that they conceived of with regard to the subject alone. They conceived of it in the context of the subject AND the learner, which meant that there was a different learning curve for each student-subject combination. So, I was the sort who plateaued on the learning curve even before I started (on any subject, you say? Well, my teachers said so, too) and there could be others who were always on the ascending arc provided the subject was deep enough. In other words, the point beyond which no further learning could happen depended on the depth of the subject AND the ability of the learner.

So far, so good. In my youth, therefore, the point was about how much you knew AND where you were on the learning curve. If you knew scant little and had hit the plateau, you were looked down upon whereas if you knew scant little but are ascending, you were encouraged. If you knew a lot and had plateaued, you were respected AND if you knew a lot and were still ascending, you were looked upon with awe. (Something like the difference between your high school physics teacher and Stephen Hawking). Of course this left me among the lowest of the low - competing with snails and other such beings known for their extraordinary disdain for intelligence.

Which is why I am all for the fact that this phrase has been adopted by everyone now. Since boys will be boys, they love even their learning with curves on, and, I suppose, that the girls are merely humoring the boys by adding it on to the learning. So, everyone and his aunt seem to be using 'learning curve' when they merely mean to say that someone is still learning. Since they have conveniently dropped all ideas of mentioning WHERE on the learning curve a person is, it works out wonderfully for me.

What does it matter if everyone else is on the ascending arc of their learning curves while I am stuck on a plateau pretty close to the ground (X-Axis? Will you stop heckling?). I am on the learning curve like everyone else is. Yippeeee!

24 comments:

  1. similar is " down the line"... still wondering where in the line iis it?:-)
    nice..

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  2. i am sure, you are going to redefine all the words from the dictionary. it was a fun read as always :)

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    1. Thanks Debs! No, I am not redefining them, only trying to understand how other people have redefined them :)

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  3. These phrases and interpretation, sigh. As far as I am concerned, there is no learning curve. It's a circle and I go round and round on that. :P

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    1. Hahaha! AND for me it is a greased slide :) I keep sliding down :)

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  4. "(Something like the difference between your high school physics teacher and Stephen Hawking)" - This line is quite something! It had me laughing out loud :D
    I guess we can safely say we are all on the curve, right?!

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    1. NOW, we can, Beloo! :) In the past, people used to ask the inconvenient question - "Where?" :)

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  5. Deja vu with your opening line...words keep jumping up at you..hehe. I am learning rubik's cube.They say learning new things help ward off Alzheimer's and such dreadfuls away in your senile years...but i already feel being there with my learning curve too greased heavily. :-D

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    1. Hahaha! Now, Alzheimer's has come to stay with me, or so it appears, considering the frequency with which I grope for names, faces and words these days :)

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  6. I actually quite agreed to the concept of learning curve, at least it seemed to make sense to me. But, yes, it really has become nonsensical since it got tossed around to show off knowledge. A fun post, this.

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    1. As do I, Rachna! In fact, most of the words I lampoon here are concepts that I agree with. I have an issue with the way people use them, which is the part I make fun of :)

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  7. These days it's maximum use is in kindergarten ptm s .:) phew !!!!

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    1. Ah! It has reached there as well? :) Thank God I am not a parent :)

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  8. Respected guru where do i stand on the learning curve of management?I think i am ascending-no?

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  9. Sliding down is fun too.... and unlearning a blessing... Good one Suresh.

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  10. Make that two on the slippery slide! Especially now with gray hair outnumbering the black... Good post!

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    1. Thanks Ilakshee! Good to have great company :)

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  11. Your choice of subjects are as interesting as the narration itself. You focus so wonderfully on aspects which we think we know and throw a completely different light on it ! Fortunately, there is a curve.. if it were a line.. I would be forever be plodding on a horizontal one :)

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    1. Beware - it may curve back into a circle and you my have a long journey leading back to the starting point :)

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