Motor learning is something we deal with a lot in physical therapy. What is it exactly? Well, basically motor learning is a “relatively permanent” change from practice of a of a motor skill. Consider things like smoothness & accuracy of movement needed for things like walking, speaking, biking….we take them for granted but remember that first time you fell off your bike?
Obviously, as PTs it is important for us to be able to teach our patients the ways to move safely and efficiently when they are learning a motor skill (perhaps they are relearning an old task after an injury or maybe something new for the first time). As students we spend a lot of time learning how people learn, sounds a little cyclical I know, but it is really important considering how different individuals can present. Luckily, some there are some guidelines to help us out.
Here is one model from a pioneer of motor learning Nikolai Bernstein
There are 3 stages:
Stage 1: Novice Stage:
Sister bear wants to be able to run with her pinwheel with Brother in the yard. But first we have to start small: focus on reducing degrees of freedom at the joints, constraints are in place at the cost of efficiency and flexibility in environmental demands.
Stage 2: Advanced:
Ok, lets get more joints involved. Increasing the degrees of freedom and allowing Sister to develop some muscle synergies and coordination with that pin wheel. After all she can not independently control all the joints required for the task.
Stage 3: Expert:
ALL degrees of freedom are release, efficiency is high and sister can run in the yard with her brother….really without much thought!