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Motor Learning

Motor learning can be used to both acquire new skills and in rehabilitation. Student use motor learning in early grades as they learn to write and use scissors, for example, and throughout school in physical education classes. This article explains.

Everyone has movement behaviors that are genetically determined and produced by the nervous system. These are called motor patterns. Motor learning is the ability to learn how to effect the reactions of the nervous system in both modifying existing motor programs and learning new motor patterns. This article gives an overview of motor learning.

Areas in Which Motor Learning Is Important

Motor learning is useful in acquiring new skills that involve movement: learning how to throw a pot on a potter’s wheel involves motor learning, as does learning how to hit a tennis ball. Motor learning is also involved in improving existing skills, as anyone who has ever tried to adjust their golf swing knows.

But another realm of motor learning is in rehabilitation. Natural changes in the body, such as growing five inches, as well as damage to the body from injury or illness can result in the need for motor learning to recover range of motion or learn new ways of doing tasks that can no longer be carried out the way they once were. Rehabilitation is also an important part of recovery after surgery that changes the body, such as having a knee or hip replacement.

Motor Learning in School

Most of the motor learning associated with school is the acquisition of new skills. Physical education classes may be the first realm of motor learning that comes to mind when thinking of schools. In fact “Motor Learning in Physical Education” is a course frequently offered for physical education instructors, and the first of the national standards of physical education from the National Association for Sport & Physical Education (NASPE) is:

Standard 1: demonstrates competency in motor skills and movement patterns needed to perform a variety of physical activities.

The competencies referred to here those that come about as a result of motor learning.

Motor Learning in Physical Education Classes

Motor learning in physical education classes is influenced by anything that affects the body, including factors such as age, sex, somatype, and prior experience. A child who has had previous experience in catching and throwing a ball will be in a different situation in learning those two skills than one who hasn’t. A child who has done warm-ups and stretched will be prepared and able to do some types of motor learning, or do it more easily, than the child who hasn’t. A child who is naturally more flexible, stronger, heavier, or is farther along in physical development will approach a task differently than a child who is less flexible or strong, lighter, or less developed. A child with confidence in his or her motor learning and athletic abilities will also approach a motor learning task differently than a child without that confidence. Practice conditions and feedback, as well as modeling, are other important components of motor learning.

Other Motor Learning in School

Manipulating a pencil and writing letters and numbers is another very important area of motor learning that goes on in school, beginning in kindergarten, or preschool, if a child attends. Other motor learning skills include using scissors, crayons, markers, and paint brushes, which - although most people might think primarily of the artistic skills involved in their use - require dexterity and motor learning as well.

As the student gets older, he or she may take a keyboarding class to increase his or her motor learning in this area. Playing any musical instrument - whether the piano, the piccolo, or a drum set - requires very specialized types of motor learning. Using a ruler, a compass, a protractor, and a calculator are math-oriented motor learning tasks. Driver’s education is a very important area of motor learning and may - if students are taught to drive with standard transmission - require not only deft and habitual movement, but also performing different actions simultaneously with each hand and foot.


Dynamic Neuromuscular Rehabilitation: Glossary -


“Cognitive Effort and Motor Learning” by Timothy D. Lee, Stephan P. Swinnen, and Deborah J. Serrien -

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