Monday, August 05, 2013

Learning by watching

Writing up the final report for the learning a trade project and expanding on the section on 'learning by watching'.

I have had a look through both editions of  – Skill Acquisition in Sport: Research theory and practice to bring together various recommendations for improving learning through observations.  The chapters of most relevance in Edition 1 are chapters 8 (instructions, demonstrations and the learning process), 9 (observational learning) and 11 (deliberate practice and expert performance) and in Edition 2 are chapter 2 (how to schedule observational practice), 6 (mental imagery, action observation and skill learning) and 11 (motor skill coordination)

From these chapters, three main topics arise. These are learning by observation; motor skills learning and relationship to deliberate practice; and role of mental imagery in learning motor skills.

Learning by observation:
Observational learning occurs through processes of copying, emulation and echokinesis. Some of the processes are innate, which is why motor skills learning can be difficult to describe and articulate through voice or text. Examples from my own experience abound whereby teaching a motor action, also involves ‘going through the motion’ as well. Learners trying to explain their action, also tend to use bodily action to ‘explain’ what they have done.  Therefore, there is a need to ATTEND to how motor skills are being learnt with a proviso to not overly analyse until basic movements are attained.

‘Stages of learning by observation’ include the need to pay focused attention at the initial stages. Visual and verbal cues from coaches are helpful in ‘priming’ a learner up and providing the learner with the ‘whole picture’. Initial practice needs to be well-supported with appropriate feedback. Feedback can be from others, but also importantly from the learner (knowledge of result – KR) as aspects, small steps, nuances of motor skill learning are sometimes difficult for observers / coaches to pick up. Here is where videos can come in handy, to record initial learning and then for coaches to assist learners to pin point areas to be improved.

Once initial learning and practice is completed and the learner is building up competency, error detection and correction (from individual and others) is undertaken. By this time, the reference points for correct posture, performance and/ or process also need to be established. Otherwise, the learner is unable to self-correct as they have unclear KR.

Motor skill learning through deliberate practice:
More on this aspect in a previous post as ‘practice’ comes up highest on list of ways of learning for apprentices. Suffice to say, ‘practice makes perfect’ and the requirement to engage in repetitive work tasks, is a cornerstone of much of human learning.

Mental imagery and motor skill learning:
The role of mental imagery is signalled in stage one of the learning by observation process. The learner needs to have some form of ‘model’, physical or mental, to base deliberate practice on. Learning can be ‘on-line’ through situated practice or ‘off-line’ through mental practice. Off-line can take the form of reviewing the steps before actual physical action or reflection after physical action. Off-line learning also required to bed down and consolidate new learning, hence importance of rest, sleep and recreation. Bringing the tenets of deliberate practice together with mental imagery is an aspect not explored in the learning of vocational trade skills.

Therefore, still the three areas of learning to work on. 
1) Individuals’ learning strategies can be improved through deliberate practice, coupled with metacognition of learning progress and perhaps assisted through use of mental imagery. 
2) Guidance from others may be direct (as per coaching) or indirect (learning by observing others) and learners need to learn the skills of how to apply suggestions from others. 
3) Workplace organisation or structure of learning need to take into account and provide support for deliberate learning processes.