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Concept: Transfer of learning from one performance situation to another is an integral part of skill learning and performance.

After completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • Define transfer of learning as it applies to the learning of motor skills

  • Discuss why transfer of learning is an important concept for motor learning

  • Discuss two reasons proposed to explain why transfer occurs

  • Define negative transfer and relate it to motor skill learning situations

  • Discuss the difference between symmetric and asymmetric bilateral transfer

  • Discuss hypotheses that attempt to explain why bilateral transfer occurs


Why do we practice a skill? One reason is to increase our capability of performing the skill in a situation requiring it. We want to be able to accomplish specific action goals when we need to, whether we perform everyday skills, work skills, or sport skills. For example, if you were a physical therapist working with the gait problems of a stroke patient, you would want that person to be able to walk in environments outside the clinic. The patient should be able to walk at home, in the workplace, at the grocery store, in the mall, etc. Similarly, if you were an athletic trainer, it would be essential for you to prepare the injured athlete you are rehabilitating to perform his or her sport skills in competition. And if you were a basketball coach, you would want your players to play well in games as well as in practice. Each of these examples involves the concept of transfer of learning, because of the need to transfer learned capabilities in one environment or situation to a different environment or situation. In fact, one of the goals of practicing a skill is developing the capability to transfer performance of the skill from the practice environment to some other environment in which the individual must perform the skill so that he or she can achieve the same action goal. Another concern for the practitioner is whether the learning of a new skill will be facilitated or impeded by skills that have already been acquired. A physical educator might wonder whether learning to gallop will interfere with or facilitate learning to skip or whether learning to throw a baseball will influence learning to bowl a cricket ball, for example. Teachers, coaches, and therapists encounter these types of questions frequently.

Application Problem to Solve Select a motor skill that you perform for recreational or sports purposes. When you began learning this skill, what kinds of practice activities did you experience? How well did they prepare you to learn the more complex aspects of this skill? How well did they prepare you to perform this skill in the range of situations and contexts in which you eventually had to perform it, such as in competition or in everyday experiences?


Transfer of learning is ...

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