Theories of Learning

Motor Learning

'A change in capability of a person to perform a skill that must be inferred from a relatively permanant change in performance as a result of practice or experience'

Performance = observable behaviour during execution of a skills at a specific time in a specific context

Motor learning is far more than a set of processes - active search and modification of many movement patterns to solve movement problems

New solutions for perceiving and acting which arise due to constraints imposed by individual, environment or task

How task is practiced and how the environment is manipulated is also a very important consideration when learning

1. Adams closed loop theory (71)

2. Schmidt schema theory (75)

3. Action systems theory

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Adam's Closed loop theory

Believes there is an matching process between desired movement and movement performed.

Main idea is feedback

1. Memory trace is viewed as being an important part - selecting and initiating movement

2. Perceptual traces guides the movement - compares movement in progress with correct memory of the movement

Perceptual traces - represent correct movement (auditory, visual, proprioceptive)

The more times a performer receives feedback, the perceptual trace gets stronger and stronger, which explains why those with more practice are more capable and make fewer errors - performance can be closer to correct movement

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Key terms

1. Closed loop control - afferent (sensory) feedback is used for the ongoing production of movement

2. Open loop control - efferent commands (motor) are preplanned before the movement takes place

3. Schema - set of rules that guide decision making relative to the goal of the skill

4. Degrees of freedom - the number of independant variables that are freely available and must be simultaneously controlled

5. Coordinative structures - a group of muscles spanning several joints, constrained to act as a single functional unit (can be used to reduce degrees of freedom)

6. Constraints - factors such as task, individual or context that influence movement

7. Affordances - possibilities for action, any given task, in particular context, can be acheived in a number of ways depending on the individual (puts great importance on link between action and perception)

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Evaluation of Adam's closed loop theory


1. Makes predictions about learning which can be tested

2. Concerned with learning and performance

3. Build on sound theoretical issues, many are testable


1. Mainly relevant to slow linear movements, does not take into account fast ballistic movements

2. There is a storage problem - how can all of these traces be stored without putting such a big strain on memory

3. Fails to account for new movement - if there are no perceptual traces how do we guide movement

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Schmidt's schema theory

Schmidt acknowleged that the closed loop theory is too slow to account for fast actions - therefore came to the conclusion they were stored in advance

Generalised motor program (GMP) - generalised instructions for a given class of movements, therefore accounting for many variations

GMP can be scaled in time or force parameters

1. Recall schema - performer determines a set of responses (GMP) that are considered to best acheive desired outcome using time and force parameters

2. Recognition schema - used to evaluate correctness of completed movement, expected movement based on previous experiences

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Evaluation of Schmidt's Schema theory


1. Accounts for more types of movement - not just slow

2. Accounts for error detection more effectively

3. Explains production of novel movements


1. Cannot explain development of new patterns of coordination

2. Overemphasises role of cognitive processing

3. Evidence does not always support theoretical predictions

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Action Systems/Ecological theory

This is a multi-disciplinary theory involving the interactions of many systems - biological, musculoskeletal, and biological

Emphasises how changes in the action environment can lead to abrubt changes in action - nonlinear dynamics

The end product of learning is not a memory-based representation of action

Inseparable coupling of action and perception is vital in generation and improvement of new skills

Perception --> Constraints of skeleto-muscular system --> Action --> Change in perceptual variables --> Perception

Cyclical structure - constantly dynamic system (changing demands in the enviroment lead to changing behaviour)

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