THE ACQUISITION OF SKILL
What happens when we learn a new, complex motor activity? What happens before a well-skilled pattern emerges? High levels of achievement seldom result suddenly. Learning of this type usually involves a gradual process during which the learner progressively, though not always smoothly, approximates his/her goal. He/She gradually coordinates his/her actions, both temporal and spatial, during repeated practices. Practice gives him/her the opportunity to adapt his/her movements during many trials, in accordance with the nature of his/her errors and the quality of the available feedback (reinforcement).
As the individual learns, he/she can move through three stages: (1) the cognitive, (2) the motor and (3) the autonomous stage. During initial learning certain knowledge and understandings of relationships must be developed and productive techniques and methods of moving are initiated. This is followed by more practice during which the learner attempts to improve and establish his/her manipulative abilities (make them more reliable and predictable). Finally the performer learns so well how to respond to external and internal cues that his/her movements require little conscious awareness.
In the present experiment, you should observe behavioral changes associated with motor learning, and you should attempt to develop analytical insight regarding the integration of perceptual, proprioceptive and motor processes. Such integration is a requirement of motor proficiency. The present study should make clear to you also a very important point: the difference between the purpose and the problem of a study. Though the problem requires you to learn to juggle, to learn to do so is not the purpose of this experiment! The purpose is to critically examine the course of development of motor learning; the specific problem, which requires you to learn to juggle, is simply the example of motor learning which is to be used in attempting to achieve the purpose.
The assignment requires two types of data: (1) the objective evidence of learning an inferred from performance an (2) the recording of your subjective thoughts, plans, opinions and evaluations about the process of learning as you progress from the beginning to the more advanced stages of learning. The latter will give you subjective data but from this analytical approach you should gain insight into some problems of motor learning. You will be simultaneously the subject, the experimenter, and the recorder during this experiment. To be sure, this presents a limiting condition but experience has shown that this assignment can be accomplished in this manner. A short period of time on ten consecutive days is required for the accumulation of the necessary quantitative and qualitative data. The questions in the section “Discussion and Inferences” are to be answered. These questions are to be typed. As is the case with any assignment, grammar and organization will be considered to be an important part of the assignment. Make sure that principles which have been discussed in class are connected to the discussion questions.
The problem is to critically examine the course of development of motor learning as it is exemplified in learning to juggle two tennis balls in one hand. Note: Although learning to juggle could be a concomitant, the objective is not to learn how to juggle.
Two tennis balls, paper, pencil, adequate space without a distracting background, good lighting, an internal timer or an alarm clock.
- Attempt to juggle two tennis balls continuously in your preferred hand in a daily practice period of 5 minutes duration on each of 10 consecutive days. Throw one ball up and then the other, alternately throwing and catching, keeping the two balls in motion at once and under control.
- At the end of each practice period record your frustrations, problems, pleasures, insights, and comments about methods tried, and the psychological aspects of performance which you experienced. Do not discuss this experiment with any of your classmates or any other person. Do not access a “You Tube” video or other to see how to juggle. Concentrate your thoughts on your own performance and learning process. You need to relate your answers to the
experience you have had and to concepts discussed in class.
- Count the number of successful catches you make during each trial and record the number. Juggle again and record catches, continuing until 5 minutes have elapsed. (Count “one” each
time you catch a ball, so that your first day’s record might look like this: 0-0-1-1-2-9-3-, etc.
- At the end of each five-minute practice period record your observations and comments. As you write your observations, relate comments to concepts which we have looked at in class. You will need a data sheet for each of the 10 days. Do not record all ten days on one sheet.
- Count and record the total number of trials you made during the period (include zero scores as trials. They were!)
- Add the total number of balls caught during the period.
- Divide the total score by the total number of attempts (average score per trial).
- Subtract your lowest daily score from your highest score (range).
- Repeat each of the above steps for each practice period during the ten days.
DISCUSSION AND INFERENCES
Since your report is to be written in formal form, space is not provided here for answers to specific questions which are listed below to help you begin to think about your data and how you will organize it. Remember that this is a discussion. You need to relate your answers to the experience you have had and to concepts discussed in class. Be sure to explain your answer. Make sure that you write in paragraph form. There should be a paragraph for each question.
- What did you learn about learning a motor skill?
- What factors seemed to increase your efficiency? decrease it?
- What happened to you as you began to learn? to your method?
- What happened to the number of trials per period as learning progressed? to the number of catches? to the range?
- What occurred during the course of learning with reference to the size of movements? the space required? the energy required? the amount of tension? the quality of movement?
- What relationships did you perceive regarding attitude, fatigue, confidence, emotions, motivations, and performance?
- If you wanted to record your typical daily performance what score would you use? Why not your best score?
- What can you say about level of aspiration? the power of each trial in influencing the next?
- From this experience and others, discuss in general your concept of the role of a teacher or coach.
- Classify and give examples of feedback available in juggling and speculate on their importance relative to successful performance of other tasks.