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Concept: People who assess learning must make inferences from observing performance during practice and tests.

After completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • Define and distinguish between the terms performance and learning

  • Identify six general performance characteristics typically observable as motor skill learning occurs

  • Describe several different methods to assess motor skill learning

  • Discuss two reasons performance during the practice of a motor skill may misrepresent the amount of learning that occurred during practice


Any practitioner involved in motor skill instruction typically has to provide some type of assessment to determine whether or not the student, athlete, or patient has learned what the practitioner has taught. The following two situations, common in physical education and rehabilitation settings, provide examples of the importance of assessing learning.

Suppose you are a physical educator teaching a tennis unit. If you are teaching your students to serve, how do you determine whether they are actually learning what you are teaching them? What will you look for to assess their progress in learning to serve? How can you be certain that what you are observing is the result of learning and not just luck?

Or suppose you are a physical therapist helping a stroke patient to relearn how to walk without support. What evidence will tell you that this patient is learning to do what you have taught him or her to do? What characteristics of the patient’s performance will make you confident that the patient has learned this skill and will be able to walk without assistance at home as well as in the clinic?

Application Problem to Solve Select a motor skill that you might teach to someone in your future profession. What would you expect the person to learn as a result of this experience with you? How would you provide evidence to that person or a supervisor to demonstrate that the skill had been learned? How could you be confident that this evidence meets the criteria established by a definition of learning as it relates to motor skills?


In any discussion about the assessment of learning, we need to keep two important terms distinct: performance and learning. This distinction helps us establish an appropriate definition for the term learning; it also helps us consider appropriate conditions under which we should observe performance so that we can make valid inferences about learning.

image A CLOSER LOOK The Terms “Performance” and “Learning”

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  • Observable behavior

  • Temporary

  • May not be due to practice

  • May be influenced by performance variables

  • Inferred from performance

  • Relatively permanent

  • Due to practice

  • Not influenced by performance variables


Simply put, performance is observable behavior. If you observe a person ...

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