Thursday, March 22, 2012

Motor control and skill development in vocational education

As a continuation to last week’s blog, contributions from the field of sports psychology, dance pedagogy and the training of surgeons are summarised with relevance to the learning of trade 'motor' skills.


Learning a trade requires the acquisition of a range of motor skills. However, the literature is sparse when it comes to vocational trade skills learning and teaching. Each of the following disciplines studies motor skill learning from slightly different angles.

In sports psychology, behaviourists and cognitivists theories are brought together to study how to improve sports performance. For instance, a continuum of skill learning includes the cognitive, associative and autonomous phrases (Christina & Corcos, 1988; Fitts & Poster, 1967) with recommendations on whole vs part practice. Specific terms of relevance include proprioception – the sense of head, trunk and limb movement and exteroceptive – vision and hearing. Books in CPIT library include 'Motor control, learning and development' by Otley and Astill (2008); and 'Applied sport psychology: personal growth to peak performance' edited by J.M. Williams (2010).

From dance pedagogy we have an example from the book ‘Meaning in motion’ by Jane Desmond (2003) Here there is the linking of motor skills development with roots in behaviourist learning theories to regarding the ‘body, tool use and cognition’ bringing together aspects of embodiment, identity, how the brain represents and make connections between the many sensory inputs.
Medical education includes many speciality areas requiring the learning of practical skills. Here is an example on teaching surgical skills by Reznick & MacRae (2006). The paper advocates the use of simulations to assist medical students to learn and deliberately practice the mechanics of the skill before they have to use subsets and variants of these skills in an actual operating theatre.

Therefore, there is a specific language from psychology, to describe various aspects of motor control and skills learning and examples from other disciplines studying, describing and some advocating strategies for application to learning and teaching. Next step for me is to to think through the interconnections, interfaces and synergies between the various approaches to understanding learning how to become a trade worker.