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A learning curve is a graphical representation of the relationship between how proficient people are at a task and the amount of experience they have. Proficiency (measured on the vertical axis) usually increases with increased experience (the horizontal axis), that is to say, the more someone, groups, companies or industries perform a task, the better their performance at the task.
The common expression "a steep learning curve" is a misnomer suggesting that an activity is difficult to learn and that expending much effort does not increase proficiency by much, although a learning curve with a steep start actually represents rapid progress. In fact, the gradient of the curve has nothing to do with the overall difficulty of an activity, but expresses the expected rate of change of learning speed over time. An activity that it is easy to learn the basics of, but difficult to gain proficiency in, may be described as having "a steep learning curve".
The learning curve may refer to a specific task or a body of knowledge. Hermann Ebbinghaus first described the learning curve in 1885 in the field of the psychology of learning, although the name did not come into use until 1903. In 1936 Theodore Paul Wright described the effect of learning on production costs in the aircraft industry. This form, in which unit cost is plotted against total production, is sometimes called an experience curve.