Motor Learning Principles
Debbie Rose, Ph.D.
Co-Director, Center for Successful Aging
California State University, Fullerton
Important Motor Learning
How best to introduce a skill
• Modeling – correct versus learning models
• Discovery Learning Techniques
How to organize the practice environment
• Practice variability – task demands versus
environmental constraints
How to provide feedback to clients in a
meaningful way
• Augmented Feedback
Stages of Learning
Gentile’s Two-Stage Model of Motor
• Stage One: “Understanding the goal of the
• Stage Two: “Adapting the movement pattern to
the specific demands of the environment in
which skill will ultimately be learned.”
I: Getting the Idea of the
 Learner
begins to explore how
different parts of movement must be
coordinated to achieve the goal.
 Engages in trial-and-error practice.
 Learner begins to discriminate
between environmental features
important to the task.
I: Getting the Idea of the
Regulatory Conditions
• Environmental features that directly affect how
the skill is to be performed.
Non-Regulatory Conditions
• Environmental features that do not, or should
not influence how the skill is to be performed.
• Example?
Reaching for an object while standing on
half-foam roller
Regulatory Conditions
•Size and shape of object
•Distance and height of
object from body
•Width and compliance of
support surface
•Instructor clothing
•Color of object
•Proximity of other clients
•Background noise/music
 Learner
attempts to adapt movement
pattern to specific demands of
environment in which task will be
• Stable
• Variable
Learner’s Goal?
 Fixate
or diversify the skill
 Dependent
on the type of
performance environment in which
skill will ultimately be performed.
Practical Implications
 Most
daily activities require that skills
be diversified
 Regulatory
conditions related to task
demands or environmental constraints
should be manipulated.
Introducing the Skill to be
 Traditional
method is to provide verbal
description of movement skill followed
by one or more visual demonstrations
 Why?
Believed to convey greatest
amount of information in most
meaningful form.
Visual Demonstrations
Most effective when a new pattern of
coordination is being learned.
Observing initially unskilled models may be
equally if not more beneficial than observing a
correct model. Why?
• Learner more likely to engage in problem-
solving activities versus imitation.
• Underlying strategy used to accomplish skill
not observable in case of skilled model.
• Most effective when demonstration is
supplemented with corrective feedback.
Practical Implications
Small group activities – one person serves
as learning model and others in group are
observers. Instructor provides corrective
feedback on multiple trials before group
practice begins.
 Alternative strategy - Performance
checklists describing key elements of skill.
• Fosters better understanding of skill to be
• Facilitates management of groups.
Discovery Learning
Self- or guided-discovery.
Many skills to be learned in FallProof 
program are best learned implicitly.
Example: Helping clients learn how and when
to transition from one type of postural control
strategy to another (ankle to hip)
Verbally posing a movement problem or
manipulating task demands and/or
environmental guides learner to solution and
fosters more problem-solving.
Varying the Practice Environment
Important to vary practice environment
during second stage of learning
Challenge can be manipulated by varying task
and/or environmental demands
Results in more varied practice environment
that benefits learning of current and future
Valuable to vary practice environment when
learning to fixate or diversify skill.
The Practice Environment
 How
practice environment is
structured depends on:
• Learner’s current level of skill
• Characteristics of skill to be learned
• Final performance environment – stable
(unchanging) versus variable
Varying the Practice
Regulatory and non-regulatory conditions
should be manipulated when learning to
diversify a skill.
Non-regulatory conditions should be
manipulated when learning to fixate a skill.
Varying the Practice
How variations of one or multiple skills
are practiced can also be varied.
 Increases level of contextual interference
or variety introduced into practice
 Variety further manipulated by varying
practice according to a blocked or
random practice schedule
Varying the Practice Environment
Blocked Practice Schedule
• Particular skill is practiced for given number of
repetitions before new variation of same skill or
new skill is practiced
Random Practice Schedule
• Learner performs a skill or variation of skill
only once before practicing a different skill or
variation of skill on next repetition. Practice
order is randomized
Random schedules more cognitively
effortful but appear better for learning
Increasing Cognitive Effort
Suitable Progression:
 Practice different variations of single
skill according to blocked followed by
random practice
 Follow same practice schedule
(blocked to random) while practicing
2-3 different skills in same practice
Varying the Practice
Practical Example
Stepping On and Off Benches:
• Vary only height of bench and perform toe
touches according to blocked then random
practice schedule
• Practice different skill variations on different
height benches according to blocked then
random schedule.
Can match level of practice difficulty to
learner capabilities easily.
Benefits of Varying the Practice
 Leads
to better learning of movement
 Improves learner’s ability to transfer
what has been learned between
different environments and skills
 Results in more enjoyable practice
environment, albeit more challenging.
Delivering Feedback to a
One of most effective ways to assist learners
identify and correct errors in performance
 Augmented feedback supplements feedback
derived from internal sensory systems
 Can be verbal, visual, or auditory in nature
 Can be delivered during of after a
Delivering Feedback to a
Augmented feedback can provide
learner with information about
outcome of performance
• Knowledge of Results (KR)
Augmented feedback can also provide
information about quality of the
• Knowledge of Performance (KP)
Augmented Feedback
During stage One of Learning it is
important to provide prescriptive feedback
 Informs learners about what they are
doing wrong and how to correct it.
 During Stage Two of learning type of
feedback becomes more descriptive.
 Begin to ask questions following attempts
at a skill to foster error detection and selfcorrection in this stage of learning.
Augmented Feedback
Which type of feedback is most beneficial to
learner? BOTH
 KR is beneficial for Four reasons:
 Can be used to confirm learner’s own assessment
of internal sensory feedback
 Can help determine actual outcome in situations
where own intrinsic feedback is insufficient
 Can motivate learner to continue practicing skill
 Limiting feedback to KR promotes self-discovery
Augmented Feedback
Important to remember that more is NOT
 Too much augmented feedback leads to
over dependence
 Less feedback forces learner to rely on
internal sensory feedback to make
necessary skill corrections
 Less feedback leads to better learning and
transfer of knowledge to activities of daily
Goal as instructor is to provide older adult
learners with skills and strategies needed to
accomplish variety of daily activities.
 Tasks vary in demands imposed and must
be performed in different sensory
 Important to structure class sessions in
manner that fosters problem-solving

Motor Learning Principles - California State University, Fullerton