Types of Learning

Individual learning: improvement that results when people repeat a process and gain skill or efficiency from their own experience

Practice makes perfect

Organizational learning: also comes from changes in administration, equipment, and product design

Expect to see both simultaneously


Application of Learning Curves

Learning curve: a line displaying the relationship between unit production time and the cumulative number of units produced

Wide range of applications

Can be used to estimate time and cost

One of the trade-offs in JIT


Learning Curve Assumptions

The amount of time required to complete a given task or unit of a product will be less each time the task is undertaken.

The unit time will decrease at a decreasing rate.

The reduction in time will follow a predictable pattern.


Finding the Learning Rate

Arithmetic tabulation


Some other curve-fitting method


Learning Curves Plotted as Times and Numbers of Units


Plotting Learning Curves

In practice, learning curves are plotted using a graph with logarithmic scales.

The unit curves become linear throughout their entire range.

The cumulative curve becomes linear after the first few unit.

Direct logarithmic analysis is more efficient because it does not require a complete enumeration of successive time–output combinations.


Data for an 80 Percent Learning Curve


Resulting Learning Curve Plots


Estimating the Learning Percentage

Assume that the learning percentage will be the same as it has been for previous applications within the same industry.

Assume that it will be the same as it has been for the same or similar products.

Analyze the similarities and differences between the proposed start-up and previous start-ups and develop a revised learning percentage that appears to best fit the situation.


Individual Learning

Proper selection of workers

Proper training


Work specialization

Do one or very few jobs at a time

Use tools that support performance

Provide quick and easy access for help

Allow workers to help redesign tasks



An Example Involving Two Job Applicants


Organizational Learning

Organizations learn as well.

A main source is individual learning.

An organization also acquires knowledge in its technology, its structure, documents it retains, and standard operating procedures.

Knowledge can also be embedded in the organizational structure.

Knowledge can depreciate if individuals leave the organization.

Knowledge can depreciate if technologies become inaccessible or difficult to use.


Managerial Considerations


Individual learning and incentives

Workers and organization must have adequate incentives to enhance learning.

Learning on new jobs versus old jobs

The newer the job, the greater the improvements possible.

Improvement comes from working smarter, not harder

Suggesting a learning rate leads to a built-in bias

Learning rate becomes a goal instead of an independent phenomenon.

Better methods and support systems, not increased effort, are the source of gains.

Managerial Considerations


Preproduction versus postproduction adjustments

High levels of preproduction planning mean early units will already incorporate a significant amount of learning.

Changes in indirect labor and supervision

Changes to production conditions can influence the learning rate.

Changes in purchasing practices, methods, and organizational structure

Significant adjustments to any of these factors can affect production rate.

Contract phase-out

As a contract nears completion, learning curve may begin to turn upward.

Summary of key points

Individuals and organizations learn at predictable rates.

Estimated learning rates are used to predict performance and costs over time.

Learning rates vary with individuals.

Skills learned on similar jobs can transfer – require experience to be hired.

The more complex the task, the slower the learning.

The more simple the task, the sooner learning and productivity happen.

Job specialization divides tasks into more simple activities to increase learning and productivity.