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Concept: The amount of practice and the spacing or distribution of that practice can affect both practice performance and the learning of motor skills.

After completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • Define overlearning in terms of how it relates to the decision about the amount of practice time needed to learn motor skills

  • Describe how an overlearning practice strategy influences the learning of procedural skills and dynamic balance skills

  • Discuss the relationship between overlearning and other practice condition variables

  • Describe how the concept of practice distribution is related to the intertrial interval and to the length and distribution of practice sessions

  • Discuss evidence supporting the benefit for distributed practice of the distribution of practice sessions and possible reasons for this benefit

  • Compare and contrast massed and distributed intertrial interval schedules for discrete and continuous motor skills

  • Describe how to implement knowledge of massed and distributed practice in various skill learning situations


Teachers, coaches, and therapists must make important decisions about the amount of practice people should engage in, as well as how much time to devote to various activities within and across practice sessions within the total amount of practice time available. In terms of the amount of practice needed to learn a skill, the conventional wisdom seems to be that the more practice a person has, the better his or her performance will be in some future situation. Consider some examples. It seems likely that a dance teacher would encourage a dancer who was a bit tentative in certain parts of a routine to spend as much time as possible going over the routine repeatedly in practice. A golf instructor would probably try to help a person be more successful with a certain shot by encouraging the person to spend as much time as possible on the practice range. Our experiences in situations like these lead us to accept the view that for improving performance "more practice is better." But ironically, although this view of practice seems logical, research indicates that it is not always the best alternative. For example, as you saw in chapter 16 the same amount of practice can yield different learning results when practice follows different practice organization schedules. And, in chapter 15 you saw examples of the same amount of practice resulting in different learning outcomes depending on the frequency of augmented feedback. You will see another example of this type of effect in the Discussion section that follows.

After having determined the amount of practice time people need to learn a motor skill, the practitioner needs to determine how much time to devote to various activities within and across practice sessions. He or she must determine the amount of time to devote to each activity in a session, the amount of rest between activities within a session, the length of each session, and the amount of time between sessions.


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