Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Skill Acquisition in Sport: Research, theory and practice


Book edited by A.M. Williams and N. Hodges (2004) and published by Routledge.  There is now a 2012 version on google books with different content chapters which I have ordered for the library.

Have mentioned the 2004 book in a previous blog but while away last week and through a wet public holiday day on Monday, had time to do a concentrated study of relevant chapters. Much of the research is relevant to trades based skill learning but the information needs to be unpacked and contextualised for vocational educators.  So this post is a consolidation of main ideas from relevant chapters as pertinent to vocational education.

The book has 19 chapters with the first chapter covering ‘the historical perspective on skill acquisition’ by J.J. Summers. The other chapters are organised into three sections. 9 chapters in part 1 on information processing perspectives, 5 chapters in part 2 focused on the expertise approach and 4 chapters in part 3 covering ecological / dynamic systems approaches.

Summarises of relevant chapters follow.

Chapter 1 ‘the historical perspective on skill acquisition’ by J.J. Summers
This chapter provides a good overview of the work undertaken since the 1800s on skill learning.  There is a summary of the work undertaken in experimental psychology, still useful today. In particular, foundational understanding of concepts like ‘learning curves’, ‘plateaus’, ‘transfer of learning’, ‘law of effect’, ‘ knowledge of results (KR)’ , ‘open / closed loop learning’ etc.  Of note is the need to distinguish between the learning of skills under automatic control and activities demanding high levels of concentration and the understanding that motor skills also required the acquiring of cognitive skills. Basically a move from behaviourist models to information processing models to the present melding of motor skill learning / cognitive processing with contextual practice called the ecological/dynamical systems framework.
Second chapter -  Contextual interference by T.D. Lee and D.A. Simon confirms that ‘practice makes perfect’ helps with skill learning but the phrase ‘perfect practice makes perfect’ does not. The chapter uses studies completed by Shea and Morgan (1979) on structuring practice, either in blocks of similar activity, or with practice types randomly distributed. Blocked practice led to rapid performance improvement with random practice leading to slower skill acquisition. However, the participants in the random group learnt the skill better. So acquisition is better with blocked practice but learning is enhanced with a random acquisition schedule.

Chapter 3 - The utilisation of visual feedback in the acquisition of motor skills by M.A. Khan and I.M. Franks. A relevant chapter for vocational education. Has a good overview of the need to learn through practicing under ‘real’ situations i.e. the specificity of practice. Direct feedback- actual views of arms/legs etc. (on-line) may not be possible in the execution of some skills. Indirect feedback (offline) through the awareness of body position (proprioception) may be required. However, continued feedback via external means (oral from coaches or peers, of learners’ own visual) may not always be effective as knowledge of results (KR) associations need to be interconnected with non-visual aspects. So, in learning how to complete skilled tasks, there needs to be careful consideration of what sort of oral and peer feedback will be useful. Coaches and teachers also have to be aware of the sorts of internal feedback mechanisms (body positions, muscle tension etc.) learners will be feeling and then work out how and when to provide instruction about these mechanisms.

Chapter 4 -  One trial motor learning by J. Dickinson, D. Weeks, B. Randall and D. Goodman. One trial refers to how people struggle to learn a difficult skill and then suddenly, ‘get it’. Common examples include riding a bike or learning how to ski. In vocational education, my observations of welding reveal that learning welding might also fit into this category of motor learning. At one of my vocational education workshops, one of the tutors in a manufacturing trade shared with the group, his struggles to learn welding skills and it only came right when he realised he had to control his breathing in order to complete welding projects.  In this chapter, acquisition theories and descriptions of relevance are overviewed. The chapter reports on several studies of how one-trial may occur. The chapter concludes on the difficulties in establishing how people get to the ‘aha’ moment when various stepped (scaffolded) learning / practice regimes suddenly coalesce and the learner ‘gets it’.  This is due to the various approaches individuals take towards attaining learning goals. Therefore, coaches and instructors being able to deploy a range of learning strategies and who have the empathetic understanding of learners to be able to suggest the best matched strategy may be a way forward with one trial learning / complex motor skills requiring high levels of spatial / temporal coordination.

Chapter 6 - Decision training : cognitive strategies for enhancing motor performance by J.A. Vickers, M Reeves, K.L. Chambers and S. Martell. The chapter reports on a method to encourage the interconnections between cognitive and physical learning of skills by athletes. Of note is the role of coaches to helping the process. The chapter discusses the factors that contribute to effective coaching and the need for coaching training to move on from ‘learning by observation’ of experienced coaches. The three step decision training process – decisions, triggers and tools – is introduced as a method to improve coaching.  Coaches need to help sports people learn how to make better decisions based on KR. Tools for improving performance include variable practice, random practice, bandwidth feedback, questioning, video feedback, hard-first instruction and modelling.

Chapter 7 - Understanding the role of augmented feedback: the good, the bad and the ugly with G. Wulf and C.H. Shea. Centred around the Knowledge of Results (KR) defined as feedback provided to the learner after completion of skill activity. Summarises advantages and disadvantages of KR along with a large number of studies on various aspects of deployment of KR  - reduced KR frequency, constant practice, variable practice, delay KR and error estimation, bandwidth of KR. Plus KR effect on learning complex skills and aspects of feedback and attentional focus. Some consolidation with KR playing important role in guiding performance towards the required standard; providing KR at every trial results in dependence on external KR and also blocks process for attaining intrinsic information plus results in increased variability in responses.  So need for KR to be carefully targeted and learner still has to learn and be responsive to own KR.
Chapter 8 - Instructions, demonstrations and the learning process: creating and constraining movement options by N.J. Hodges and I.M. Franks. A very relevant chapter deconstructing the many myths about practical skills learning with an emphasis on the provision of verbal or written instructions that are apart from or part of demonstrations. Two main sections to the chapter. First section on information- processing accounts of skill acquisition. Changes in information processing demands as skill increases is covered – novices need to attend more at initial practice and as skill becomes ‘automated’ less attention is required. In order to decrease the high number of demands when first learning a skill, visual (pictures, watching demonstration) or verbal cues may assist to simply the learning content.  In effect, priming the novice with cognitive, declarative type input before structured, on-going and repetitive practice lessens the information processing demands to the final automatic, procedural, non-verbal stage. As learning progresses, error detection and correction mechanisms along with reference-of-correctness points need to be identified and the learning assisted to learn these. The second section in the chapter discusses learning as a dynamic process dictated by constraints including coordination dynamics. To offset the constraints, recommendations are to encourage learning of movements through movement variability and being mindful of complexity of tasks (for instance ambidextrous activities) which might benefit from assisting learners to ‘decouple’ – learn skill from scratch and not as an extension of pre-existing but slightly different skill; be attuned to the levels of control for different parts of the sensori-motor system (posture, then repetitive locomotion than targeted purposeful movement); accessibility to knowledge infers that not all learners are able to learn by observation – especially of complex skills (see chapter on one trial); and helping learners to identify the ‘end points’ of a sequence of movements sometimes helps.

Chapter 9 - Observational learning: is it time we took another look? By R.R. Horn and M. Williams. Begins with a short overview of the concepts of imitation and observational learning defining terms like matched-dependent behaviour, copying, emulation and echokinesis. Then summarises cognitive approaches and Bandura’s social cognitive theory as one that is helpful  - attentional, retentional, production and motivation processes. Then critiques social cognitive theory to lead into discussion on an ecological alternative

Chapter 11 - Deliberate practice and expert performance: defining the path of excellence with P. Ward, N. J. Hodges, A.M Williams and J.L. Starkes. This chapter provides an overview of the theory of deliberate practice and includes some critical analysis along with outstanding issues not addressed by the theory. These issues include developmental (pre-peak practice and past performance peaks) and methodical (reliability and validity of data) issues. Recommendations on how these issues may be addressed through sports –based research are proposed. A good chapter to balance the accepted tenets of the deliberate practice theory.

Chapter 14 - From novice to expert performance: memory, attention and the control of complex sensori-motor skills with S.L. Beilock and T.H. Carr. Begins with an overview of theories of skill acquisition and the role of memory  and attention in acquiring skills. Uses studies in golf to illustrate concepts. Of importance is the discussion on ‘choking under pressure’ and reasons this occurs.

Chapter 15 - perceptual and cognitive expertise in sport: Implications for skill acquisition and performance enhancement with A.M. Williams, P. Ward and N.J. Smeeton. Summarise key findings in perceptual / cognitive expertise including pattern recognition, advance cue usage, visual search behaviour, situational probabilities and maturation and practice. Experts tend to have developed through specific practice, the ability to look for contextual clues that novices are unaware of. How perceptual / cognitive skills can be developed is then introduced with recommendations for instruction. Of interest is the discussion on when and how to use implicit or explicit learning strategies.  Finds that video simulation and appropriate instruction to important performance cues  and feedback can be helpful.

Chapter 16 - the evolution of coordination during skill acquisition: the dynamic systems approach by R. Huys, A. Daffershofer and P.J. Beek. The chapter is an introduction to the newer theories underpinned by dynamic systems which views learning as fluid and dependent on a wide range of difficult to pin down variables. A proposal is that learning is to do with changes in the way we are able to coordinate a range of physical and mental schema (coordinative flexibility). A range of theories that are framed by dynamic systems are overviewed and discussed.

Chapter 17 - perceptual learning is mastering perceptual degrees of freedom by G.J.P. Savelsbergh, J. Van der Kamp, R.R.D. Oudejans and M.A. Scott. An extension of one of the theories introduced in the previous chapter . ‘Perceptual degrees of freedom’ is influenced by the writings of Bernstein on motor coordination – including stages of freezing, freeing and exploiting. Practical applications in through discussions on soccer and basketball are provided to example the concepts. Recommends that firstly, learning a skill should have few variables and be situated in practice. After basic skills are attained, freeing and exploitation phrases may be introduced with more variable conditions to widen skill repertoire. 

1 comment:

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