Using Motor-Learning Theory to Design More Effective Instruction: Pick the Best Strategies from Multiple Teaching Approaches

Article excerpt

How do teachers decide what teaching approach to use and when to use it? The answer is complex, but learning theory is one source of information that teachers can use to help make that decision. Each teaching approach is undergirded by learning theory (Rink, 2001), and each theory describes learning from a different perspective. If teachers have an idea of how they want their students to learn and what objectives they want to accomplish, the task of selecting an approach becomes easier. However, it is apparent that using only one teaching approach is limiting; there is usually more than one objective to accomplish, and students may understand or learn a particular skill more effectively depending on the situation and their developmental readiness. Thus, it makes sense for teachers to learn to use multiple theories to design a new approach or to use multiple approaches sequentially or concurrently during the same lesson in order to make teaching more effective.

Learning can occur through both implicit and explicit processes (Magill, 2007). Students do not need to have all the content explicitly provided to them. Students' coordination may mature or "naturally" change as a result of practicing skills in teacher-engineered task-environment situations. This article describes an early field experience during which preservice teachers experimented with two different teaching approaches--direct instruction and task-environmental design--in an effort to determine the efficacy of the approaches for teaching the standing long jump.

First, the article will frame the teaching-and-learning situation according to the student and task-environmental constraints and then provide a rationale for making instruction developmentalty appropriate. Subsequently, the article describes the learning theory that supports each approach, and then discusses how the preservice teachers, through experimentation with these approaches, came to the conclusion that both approaches worked, but differently. By combining the strategies associated with different approaches, the preservice teachers felt they could become more effective in achieving their objectives. Examples of teaching strategies that can be used with this approach are described.

Teaching Approaches and Learning Theories

A teaching approach is the organization of how teachers plan to deliver content to students. Teaching approaches based on the relative amount of decision-making allotted to teachers and students are situated on a continuum from direct to indirect (Mosston & Ashworth, 2002). Particular teaching strategies, such as verbal instruction, feedback, or equipment modification tactics, may be used with each approach.

Two major theories undergird motor-skill learning: the ecological perspective and the information-processing perspective (Coker, 2003). Each describes the acquisition of motor control from a different perspective. Acceptance of a theory influences our beliefs about how students learn (i.e., conceptions of learning), which in turn affects the teaching approach used. The principles from each theory give direction on how strategies may be applied in various situations to accomplish instructional objectives.

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Teaching-and-Learning Situation

Before both theories and their corresponding teaching approaches are introduced, it is helpful to think about the teaching-and-learning situation using the concept of constraints (Newell, 1986). Each variable that exists in the teaching-and-learning situation is conceptualized as a constraint, which can be categorized into three different groups: individual (i.e., student), task, and environment (Newell, 1986). Individual constraints are unique biological characteristics of the student that can be classified into two categories: structural and functional. Structural constraints represent specific aspects of body structure, such as height or weight, whereas functional constraints are internal processes, such as students' level of body awareness or their cognitive ability to classify or reverse their thinking. …