Research Article: Learning better by repetition or variation? Is transfer at odds with task specific training?

Date Published: March 23, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Emmanuel Bonney, Lemke Dorothee Jelsma, Gillian D. Ferguson, Bouwien C. M. Smits-Engelsman, William W Lytton.


Transfer of motor skills is the ultimate goal of motor training in rehabilitation practice. In children with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), very little is known about how skills are transferred from training situations to real life contexts. In this study we examined the influence of two types of practice on transfer of motor skills acquired in a virtual reality (VR) environment.

One hundred and eleven children with DCD and their typically developing (TD) peers, aged 6–10 years (M = 8.0 SD = 1.0) were randomly assigned to either variable (n = 56) or repetitive practice (n = 55). Participants in the repetitive practice played the same exergame (ski slalom) twice weekly for 20 minutes, over a period of 5 weeks, while those in the variable group played 10 different games. Motor skills such as balance tasks (hopping), running and agility tasks, ball skills and functional activities were evaluated before and after 5 weeks of training.

ANOVA repeated measures indicated that both DCD and TD children demonstrated transfer effects to real life skills with identical and non-identical elements at exactly the same rate, irrespective of the type of practice they were assigned to.

Based on these findings, we conclude that motor skills acquired in the VR environment, transfers to real world contexts in similar proportions for both TD and DCD children. The type of practice adopted does not seem to influence children’s ability to transfer skills acquired in an exergame to life situations but the number of identical elements does.

Partial Text

Active video games, also known as exergames have recently been found to be useful tools for training children with and without Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) [1–5]. For instance, the Nintendo Wii has been shown to improve dynamic balance, aerobic capacity and agility in children with motor problems [6]. Exergames are motion-dependent video games that use whole bodily movement to regulate gameplay [7]. Exergames provide online feedback and motivational experiences making it conducive for children with DCD to learn new skills. For exergames to be relevant and effective as an intervention, it is critical to demonstrate that skills learned by playing active video games can transfer to motor skills used in the real world.

To promote active computer games for skill learning in children with DCD, it must enable the child to transfer learning from the virtual environment to his or her real world environment. In this study, we tried to answer three questions about transfer of motor skills in a population of children with DCD and their typically developing peers. First, we tested if participating in 5-week exergaming training leads to improvements in every day motor skills. Second, we tested if variable practice would yield greater improvements in motor skills with common elements and less common elements than repetitive practice. Thirdly, we sought to establish if improvements observed would differ between TD and DCD children.

Exergaming leads to improvements in every day skills. The skills acquired in a VR environment can transfer to real life contexts, which makes exergames effective training tools for children with fewer opportunities to play (e.g. no safe play areas, constrained to in-door activities) and with neurodevelopmental disorders like DCD. The two protocols used in this study yielded comparable effects, with larger effect sizes in motor skills with common elements than in skills with less common elements. Improvements in motor skills did not differ between children with DCD and their typically developing peers, albeit on a different level. Importantly, the degree of skill transfer was not influenced by the amount of variation in the games played during a 5 weeks training period.




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