Motor skill learning and performance: a review of influential factors


Gabriele Wulf, Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition Sciences, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, Nevada 89154-3034, USA. Tel: 00 1 702 895 0938; Fax: 00 1 702 895 1500; E-mail:


Objectives  Findings from the contemporary psychological and movement science literature that appear to have implications for medical training are reviewed. Specifically, the review focuses on four factors that have been shown to enhance the learning of motor skills: observational practice; the learner’s focus of attention; feedback, and self-controlled practice.

Observational Practice  Observation of others, particularly when it is combined with physical practice, can make important contributions to learning. This includes dyad practice (i.e. practice in pairs), which is not only cost-effective, but can also enhance learning.

Focus of Attention  Studies examining the role of the performer’s focus of attention have consistently demonstrated that instructions inducing an external focus (directed at the movement effect) are more effective than those promoting an internal focus (directed at the performer’s body movements). An external focus facilitates automaticity in motor control and promotes movement efficiency.

Feedback  Feedback not only has an informational function, but also has motivational properties that have an important influence on learning. For example, feedback after successful trials and social-comparative (normative) feedback indicating better than average performance have been shown to have a beneficial effect on learning.

Self-Controlled Practice  Self-controlled practice, including feedback and model demonstrations controlled by the learner, has been found to be more effective than externally controlled practice conditions.

Conclusions  All factors reviewed in this article appear to have both informational and motivational influences on learning. The findings seem to reflect general learning principles and are assumed to have relatively broad applicability. Therefore, the consideration of these factors in designing procedures for medical training has the potential to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of training.

Medical Education 2010: 44: 75–84