This paper was first published in the Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering, Vol. 21, 1994 pp 939-953, under the title "A Pragmatic Approach to Using Resource Loading, Production and Learning Curves on Construction Projects". It has been modified only to the extent necessary to make it presentable in web page format.

Published here October, 2001.

Abstract | Introduction | Resource Loading | S-curves | What can be Learned?
Productivity Improvement | Learning vs. Experience | Original Theory | Two Approaches
Illustration | Issues | Conclusions | References | Appendix 1 | Appendix 2 

Learning Curve vs. Experience Curve

The principle of the learning curve is given in Appendix 1. However, there is some confusion in the construction industry regarding the use of this term. Because different construction work typically takes place under unique conditions at a unique site, it is useful to differentiate between productivity improvement due to "learning" and that due to "experience".

As craft apprentices learn their trade, productivity increases. However, when skilled crafts perform a specific task on site and repeat it a number of times, there is a similar productivity increase. The former increase is due to "learning the skill", while the latter is due to acquiring "experience of the particular site conditions" associated with the work activity at the time.

This is an important distinction because it has significant implications if a site is not well run, or a job is subject to changes which interrupt the development of the learning pattern.

In construction, unfortunately, "learning curve" is typically used to refer to the productivity improvement resulting from the site experience, that is, by crafts who are already skilled at their trade. Consistent with this practice, this paper uses "learning curve" to imply "experience" and therefore assumes that all crafts have already acquired the relevant skills for the work.

Productivity Improvement  Productivity Improvement

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