Innovative Learning


Sensory-motor skills are an important category of learning in many tasks and occupations (not to mention all forms of sports). Motor skills can be classified as continuous (e.g. tracking), discrete, or procedural movements. The last category of skills are probably most relevant to real world applications such as typing, operating instruments, or maintenance.

Behavioral psychology (e.g., Guthrie, Hull, Skinner) emphasized practice variables in sensory-motor skills such as massed versus spaced practice, part versus whole task learning, and feedback/reinforcement schedules. Long-term retention of motor skills depends upon regular practice; however, continuous responses show less forgetting in the absence of practice than discrete or procedural skills. Repetition after task proficiency is achieved (overtraining) and refresher training reduce the effects of forgetting. Unlike verbal learning, sensory-motor learning appears to be the same under massed and spaced practice. Learning and retention of sensory-motor skills is improved by both the quantity and quality of feedback (knowledge of results) during training.

Marteniuk (1976) presents a theoretical framework for sensory-motor skills based upon information processing theory. This framework emphasizes the importance of feedback in correcting motor behavior and selective attention in determining what actions are taken. Marteniuk suggests two ways in which learning/teaching of motor skills can be facilitated: (1) slow down the rate at which information is presented, and (2) reducing the amount of information that needs to processed.

Singer (1975) examined the importance of prompting and guidance while learning motor skills relative to trial and error or discovery strategies. His research suggests that some form of guided learning seems most appropriate when high proficiency on a new skill is involved. On the other hand, if the task is to be recalled and transferred to a new situation, then some type of problem-solving strategy may be better. In addition, guided learning may be most effective in early training while trail and error is important in advanced training. Singer suggests that the choice of instructional strategy for motor skills should depend upon the purpose and nature of the task.

Card, Moran & Newell outlined a model called GOMS (Goal-Operation-Method-Selection) which accounts for the sensory-motor and cognitive aspects of computer input tasks.

There is evidence that mental rehearsal, especially involving imagery, facilitates performance. This may be because it allows additional memory processing related to physical tasks (e.g., the formation of schema ) or because it maintains arousal or motivation for an activity.

Many forms of sensory-motor behavior are learned by imitation, especially complex movements such as dance, signing, crafts, or surgery. Consequently, theories of social learning and development (e.g. Bandura, Vygotsky) are relevant to sensory-motor activities.

Finally, theories of individual differences, such as Guilford or Gardner, have identified a broad range of sensory-motor abilities that vary across individuals.


Adams, J.A. (1987). Historical review and appraisal of research on the learning, retention, and transfer of human motor skills. Psychological Bulletin, 101, 41-74.

Singer, R.N. (1975). Motor Learning and Human Performance (2nd Ed.). New York: Macmillan.

Marteniuk, R. (1976). Information Processing in Motor Skills. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.