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Concept: Effective methods of providing instructions for helping a person to learn motor skills depend on the skills and the instructional goals.

After completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • Describe what an observer perceives from a skilled demonstration of a motor skill and procedures researchers have used to arrive at this conclusion

  • Discuss the influence of beginners observing other beginners as they practice a skill

  • Identify the main features of the two predominant theories about how observing a demonstration helps a person learn a motor skill

  • Give examples of how instructions can influence where a person directs his or her attention when performing a motor skill

  • Define verbal cues and give examples of how they can be used in skill learning or relearning situations


If you wanted to instruct someone about how to perform a skill, how would you do it? Probably, you would demonstrate the skill, verbally describe what to do, or use some combination of both approaches. But do you know enough about the effectiveness of these different means of communication to know which one to prefer or when to use each one or both?

Demonstrating skills is undoubtedly the most common means of communicating how to perform them. We find demonstrations in a wide range of skill acquisition situations. For example, a physical education teacher may demonstrate to a large class how to putt in golf. A dance teacher may demonstrate to a class how to perform a particular sequence of movements. A baseball coach may show a player the correct form for bunting a ball. In a rehabilitation context, an occupational therapist may demonstrate to a patient how to button a shirt, or a physical therapist may demonstrate to a wheelchair patient how to get from a bed into the chair. Consider also some examples of how practitioners in other professions use demonstration as an instructional strategy. Aerobics and fitness instructors often demonstrate to their clients how to perform specific activities. Pilates and yoga instructors show their clients how to perform specific movements. And athletic trainers commonly demonstrate taping techniques to student trainers.

The practitioner demonstrates a skill because he or she believes that in this way the learner receives the most helpful, and the greatest amount of, information in the least amount of time. But, we should know when demonstration is effective and when it may be less effective than some other means of communicating how to perform a skill.

Similarly, the instructor should know when verbal instructions are an effective means of communicating how to perform a skill. And if verbal instructions are given, what characterizes the most effective instructions?

Application Problem to Solve Describe a motor skill that you might help people learn. Describe how you would provide them with information about how to perform the skill before they begin practicing the skill. ...

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