About Learning Curves

Created at: August 1, 2015 | Reading time: approx. 4 Minutes | View source on GitHub

A learning curve is often used to describe the human learning progress. It basically represents the speed of gaining new knowledge. The further you progress in you experience the shallower the curve becomes. I had my problems with this process and I want to share my insights about the not quite right image of the good-ol’ learning curve.

(This post is a written version of a lightning talk I gave at a Rails Girls Workshop in Berlin December 2014.)

What’s all the fuzz about the Learning Curve?

The typical process when you start new things (e.g. programming) is very well depicted by the classical learning curve.

A typical learning curve

At the beginngin you dive into the task, every day feels like a revelation of yet new principles and knowledge. You face tougher obstacles every day and you manage to get over them.

I personally remember a lot of nice and funny moments and “Aha-experiences” on the first two thirds of this curve. Problems that seemed unsolvable a week ago where suddenly a breeze.

All in all, the first two thirds of this experience-gaining-process where just plain awesome. Progress literally every day!

About Losing Pace…

The remaining third of the experience gaining process became a hassle to me. The symptoms I observed on myself and others can be diverse and subtle. For me it suddenly started with a feeling that most of the things you know and apply in your day to day work are starting to feel natural.

This feeling has been accompanied by the lack of learning new things every day. A type of routine crept in that I could not stand.

Eventually I reached a point of actual frustration. I felt like I had lost somehow interest in all the wonderful things I chased in the last years. And most of all I failed to recognice the root of this creeping feeling leading to even more frustration.

…and finding the Cure!

I think, the learning curve is not depicting the entire truth.

It is more like a step! Probably your first step? If you endure this rather lean period in the end of it, at some eventual point, it will all start over again. But better!

An advanced learning curve

You will probably find a new topic of interest ( TDD, Pointer Arithmetic in C, Compiler Construction, Functional Programming, … ), or you dive into some topics you where working on even deeper. I think the key point is to find the inspiration and the motivation to shift your focus of learning and improving into a slightly adapted (or drastically changed) direction.

And from the higher plane of your new learning curve all of your former problems start to feel trivial compared to your new level of skill.

I am probably not telling something completely new. But over three years ago I nearly left software engineering because I almost failed at the shallowness of my personal learning curve.

For me the way I solved this major feeling of frustration and dissatisfacton was simple: Be a mentor to someone.

Helping others with their struggle on their way up the curve opens your mind for new perspectives on nearly everything, it reminds you of yourself struggling with probably the same things some time ago. This makes you humble and grateful for what you already achieved.

Getting in touch with other people is an inspiration for learning new things.

Why this post?

I gave this lightning talk as a motivational speech on the beginning of a Rails Girls Workshop. I observed this dead point of lacking motivation and perspective not only in my one development process but also in others. And I felt the frustration that can come out of it by myself and I have seen it in others.

I think it is important to emphasize the nature of the human learning process.

Whenever you reach the point of boredom or frustration in learning, search for something new:

  • Talk to other people of the same or other professions
  • Be openminded, try to look into a methodology or a paradigm that seems contrary to your line of work
  • Try to be a mentor for someone
  • Try to find a mentor

These tips helped me to overcome the dead point and become a productive learner again.

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