An Introductory Learning Glossary

advanced / fine-tuning level  The third stage of learning of a movement skill, characterized by the performer gaining a complete understanding of the skill. At this level, the skill is performed smoothly, fluidly, and in a highly coordinated manner. The performer places emphasis on refining and fine-tuning the skill.

associative learning  A type of learning in which an association is formed between two or more stimuli, between a stimulus and a response, or between a response and its consequence; includes both classical and instrumental conditioning.   

augmented feedback  During a task, information that is received from an external source that supplements the learner’s own sensory information; feedback that is added to that typically received in the task (also called extrinsic feedback).  Finger-feeding an infant, as well as supplemental tube-feeding at the breast, are examples of augmented feedback.  

automaticity  A capacity to perform a skill with little or no conscious control. 

beginning / novice level  The first level in learning a new movement skill often characterized by slow, uncoordinated, and jerky movements accompanied by conscious attention to every detail of the activity.   

chunking  The combining of individual elements in memory into larger units. 

concurrent feedback  Augmented feedback that is presented during the execution of an action.   

consolidation  A stage of memory formation in which information is transferred from short-term memory or intermediate-term memory to long-term memory.  Prior to reaching the robust state of memory consolidation, early memories are notably fragile, including motor memories.

constraint  Boundary that has a bearing on the movement capabilities of an individual. 

coordination  The ability to integrate separate motor systems with varying sensory modalities into an efficient movement pattern that will effectively achieve a goal.   

critical period  An important period in life for acquiring a particular developmental skill that is considered critical throughout development. 

degrees of freedom  Independent elements of movement that must be organized to produce a controlled movement pattern.  

degrees of freedom problem  The difficulty in explaining the simultaneous control of multiple, independently moving body parts; the problem of how we coordinate and control the available degrees of freedom to produce a particular movement.  

ecological viewpoint  A point of view emphasizing the study of movement in natural environments.   

encoding  The initial stage of memory formation in which information entering the sensory channels is processed into short-term memory.   

executive functions  A theory of cognition that controls and manages other cognitive processes such as attention, planning, working memory, problem solving, inhibition, mental flexibility, task switching, verbal reasoning, and initiation and monitoring of actions.  Executive functions are currently attributed, in part, to the prefrontal cortex.  

expected sensory consequences  A construct in schema theory; the anticipated feedback sensations that should be received if the movement is correct. 

extrinsic feedback  Feedback from an external source, such as verbal feedback from a teacher/coach in order to establish a reference for the correct movement. 

feedback  Sensory information that results from movement. 

fine motor skill  A motor skill involving very precise movements normally accomplished using smaller musculature. 

forgetting  The loss of memory, or the loss of the acquired capability for responding.

functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI)  A technique used to detect areas of the brain that have increased blood flow, indicating active processing. 

gearshift analogy  An idea about the learning of motor programs, analogous to learning to shift gears in an automobile.

gross motor skill  A motor skill that places less emphasis on precision and is typically the result of multi-limb movements. 

guidance  A series of techniques in which the behavior of the learner is limited or controlled by various means to prevent errors. 

individual differences in learning  Differences between or among individuals in the amount or rate of skill acquisition.

information-processing viewpoint  The study of movement in which the human is viewed as a processor of information, focusing on storage, coding, retrieval, and transformation of information.  Model of perception in which a performer receives an abundance of information, focuses on pertinent stimuli, selects a response, and receives intrinsic feedback about the results of the response. 

inhibition of return (IOR)  A delay in responding to a previously cued (orienting) stimulus, when the stimulus-onset asynchrony (SOA) is 300 milliseconds or longer.

interference theory  A theory that forgetting is caused by interference from other learned information. 

intermediate / practice level  The second stage of learning a new movement skill characterized by the performer comprehending the general aspects of the skill.  Conscious attention to the details of the skill diminishes as the mental image of the skill becomes more robust. 

intrinsic feedback  Response-produced information that is available to learners from their sensory system both during and as a consequence of performance. 

knowledge of performance (KP)  Augmented feedback that provides information about the specific characteristics of the performance that led to the outcome. 

knowledge of results (KR)  Augmented feedback that provides the learner with information about the outcome of a response and is concerned with the success of the intended action with respect to its goal.

law of practice  The finding that the log of the performance measure tends to change linearly with the log of the amount of practice. 

lead-up tasks  Certain tasks or activities that are typically presented to prepare learners for a more important or more complex task or activity, such as finger-feeding an infant as a form of suck training to support the infant in organizing a disorganized suck.    

learner-related feedback  Augmented feedback provided to the learner only when he or she requests it, as in providing positioning and latch assistance to a dyad only at the parent’s request. 

learning  A relatively permanent change in a person’s ability to execute a motor skill as a result of practice or experience.  A set of internal processes associated with practice or experience leading to relatively permanent changes in the capability for skill.

learning curve  A label sometimes applied to the performance curve, in the belief that changes in performance mirror changes in learning. 

learning style  Individual preferences for receiving and processing new information.

long-term memory  A functionally limitless memory store for abstractly coded information, facts, concepts, and relationships; presumably storage for movement programs.

manipulation  Movement patterns that permit gross and fine motor contact with objects (i.e., grasping, throwing, catching, kicking, trapping, etc.).

manual guidance  Physically moving a learner through a goal movement. 

memory  The ability to store and recall information; the persistence of habit; the acquired capability for moving.

memory trace  A group of neurons interconnected and encoded for specific memories, including motor memories; a modest motor program for determining and initiating the movement.

modeling  A technique for demonstrating the task to be practiced. 

motivation  An internal condition that incites and directs action or behavior. 

motor control  The study of the neural, physical, and behavioral aspects that underlie skilled human movement. 

motor development  A field of study concerning the changes in motor behavior occurring as a result of growth, maturation, and experience. 

motor forgetting Skill decay, or decreased speed and accuracy for the task. Two major theories on forgetting, including motor forgetting or skill decay, are 1) trace decay (decay of the memory trace) due to lack of practice, whether this lack of practice takes place in good health (voluntary lack of practice) or due to illness or injury, and 2) trace decay subsequent to an interference effect. A memory trace is a group of neurons, interconnected and encoded for specific memories, including motor memories.

motor learning  The study of the processes involved in acquiring and refining motor skills and of variables that promote or inhibit that acquisition. 

motor memory  The memory for movement or motor information.   

motor program  Abstract representation that, when initiated, results in the production of a coordinated movement sequence. 

motor skill  A goal-oriented act or task that requires body and/or limb movement that must be learned. 

movement  The observable change in the position of any part of the body.

movement competence  One’s ability to meet particular achievement demands in a movement situation. 

movement skill  A fundamental movement pattern performed with accuracy, precision, and control.  Accuracy is stressed and extraneous movement is limited, as in throwing a ball at a target. 

motivation  An internal state that tends to direct or energize the system toward a goal.

movement time (MT)  The interval between the initiation of a movement and its completion or termination.   

negative transfer  The loss in capability for one task as a result of practice or experience in some other task; the learning of a new skill or its performance under novel conditions is negatively influenced by past experience with another skill or skills.  In the field of infant feeding, an example of negative transfer is the infant’s observable skill decay observed for breastfeeding (latch and/or effective suckling) that often follows the use of an artificial nipple, and particularly the early use of an artificial nipple.   

olfactory perception  The ability to receive and process information that is obtained by the sense of smell. 

perception  The process by which we become aware of our surroundings through the use of one or more of our sensory modalities; the process by which meaning is attached to information.   

perceptual-motor  The process of organizing incoming information with stored information that leads to a movement response.   

performance  The act of executing a skill. 

performance plateau  A period of time during the learning process in which no overt changes in performance occur.   

perseverate  To repeatedly display a behavior. 

phase transition  An abrupt shift from one coordination pattern to another. 

phylogenetic skills  Movement skills that tend to appear automatically and in a predictable sequence and are purported to be resistant to external environmental influences.  Examples: reaching, grasping and releasing; and walking, jumping, and running. 

positive transfer  The gain in capability on one task as a result of practice or experience on some other task.  The learning of a new skill or its performance under novel conditions is positively influenced by past experience with another skill or skills.   

preparation  Reorganization of attention and information processing so that a signal can be received and responded to quickly.   

primitive postural reflexes  A subgroup of primitive reflexes that resemble and may serve as precursors to later voluntary movements.   

proactive interference  Old memories interfere with the retention of new information that is to be learned and remembered.    A source of forgetting caused by learning imposed before the original learning of some to-be-remembered task.   

procedural memory  The memory of information regarding how to do something.   

proprioception  The continuous flow of sensory information that is received from receptors located in the muscles, tendons, joints, and inner ear regarding movement and body position.   

proprioceptors  Receptors that provide information regarding body position and movement by detecting changes in muscle tension, joint position, and equilibrium.   

psychological refractory period  Delay in responding to a second stimulus in a situation where two stimuli, each of which requires a different response, are presented in succession within a short period of time.   

reaction time (RT)  The interval between the presentation of a stimulus and the initiation of a response.

reflex  An observable response to stimuli that has traditionally been considered to be automatic and involuntary. 

reflex arc  The simplest pathway by which a reflex occurs.

response time  The interval from the presentation of a stimulus to the completion of a movement; the sum of reaction time (RT) and movement time (MT).   

retroactive interference  Interference with the retention of older memories by the learning of something new.   

reward-based learning  Critical for goal-directed behavior in humans and animals, reward-based learning is the ability to change behavior based on the expectation of rewarded outcomes.

savings score  A statistic used in transfer experiments, representing the “savings” in practice time on one task resulting from experience on some other task.

self-organization  From dynamic-pattern theory, a view that describes motor control as emerging from the interaction of the components of the movement system; spontaneous emergence of a movement pattern as a result of the interaction of ever-changing organismic, environmental, and task constraints placed on the learner.   

self-talk  Cues used by learners to guide themselves through an action or a movement-sequence.  

sensitive period  As compared to a critical period in development, a sensitive period is a lengthier period of time in development when the learner is more sensitive or receptive to various types of environmental stimuli.   

sequencing  An invariant feature of motor programs in which the order of elements is fixed. 

serial skill  A motor skill that is composed of a number of discrete skills or elements whose integrated performance is crucial for goal achievement, and where the order of elements is important.   

short-term memory  A memory store with a capacity of about seven elements, capable of holding moderately abstract information for up to 30 seconds; analogous to consciousness; a “work space” for processing. 

short-term sensory store  A functionally limitless memory store for holding literal information for only about 1 second. 

similarity  A construct in most theories of transfer, indicating the extent to which certain aspects of two tasks are the same.   

single-channel hypothesis  A theory of attention suggesting that the system can process only a single stimulus leading to a response at any given time.

skill decay  Measurable performance decrements in learned skills or knowledge following periods of nonuse.  The greater the period of non-use, the more substantial the extent of skill decay.  In motor learning, skill decay is measured as a decrease in speed of movement as well as a decrease in accuracy for performing the task. 

skills  Movements that are dependent on practice and experience for their execution, as opposed to being genetically defined.   

spatial anticipation  The anticipation of which stimulus (or the response to it) will occur; also called event anticipation. 

specificity of learning  The concept that the similarity of environmental conditions and processing in practice, compared to those in transfer, has a strong influence on transfer performance.   

speed-accuracy trade-off  The fact that an emphasis on speed in performance negatively effects accuracy, and vice versa.   

state anxiety  A temporary state of worry or concern about a particular situation or activity.   

stimulus  A change in the environment that evokes a response. 

stimulus-response compatibility  The degree to which the stimuli and associated responses in a set are “naturally” related to each other.   

temporary anticipation  The anticipation of when a given stimulus will arrive or when a movement is to be made. 

trace-decay  A theory holding that forgetting is caused by the spontaneous “decay” or weakening of memory over time. 

transfer  Phenomenon in which the learning of a new skill or its performance under novel conditions is influenced by past experience with another skill or skills.   

transfer-appropriate processing  The theory that positive transfer should be expected when practice conditions require learners to engage in problem-solving processes similar to those that the criterion task requires.     

ventral visual stream  Processing involving the infero-temporal cortex; responsible for providing cognitive information about objects in the environment.  

vestibular apparatus  The receptors in the inner ear that are sensitive to the orientation of the head with respect to gravity, to rotation of the head, and to balance.

visual proprioception  Gibson’s concept that vision can serve as a strong basis for perception of the movements and positions of the body in space.

visual search  The process of directing visual attention while trying to locate critical regulatory cues in the environment. 

zero transfer  When past experience with another skill or skills has no influence on the learning of a new skill or its performing under novel conditions. 

Glossary Sources

Breedlove MS, Watson NV (2013).  Biological Psychology:  An Introduction to Behavioral, Cognitive, and Clinical Neuroscience (7th ed.).  Sunderland, Massachusetts USA:  Sinauer Associates, Inc.   

Gallahue D, Ozmun J, Goodway J (2012).  Understanding Motor Development: Infants, Children, Adolescents, Adults (7th ed.).  Columbus, Ohio USA: McGraw-Hill Education.    

Kalat JW (2015).  Biological Psychology (12th ed.).  Boston, Massachusetts USA: Cengage Learning.  

Schmidt RA, Lee TD (2011).  Motor Control and Learning: A Behavioral Emphasis (5th ed.).  Champaign, Illinois USA: Human Kinetics.