I’ve had quite a few new clients start with me lately and I has reminded of the stages of learning when it comes to acquiring physical skills.
Stage 1 – The Cognitive Stage
The fundamental requirement here is an understanding of the task required. During this stage the learner will encounter problems, usually in the form of errors, awkwardness and some disorientation. During this stage, learners receive instruction, continuous feedback on their progress and perhaps even demonstration from their teacher/coach. If they experience a lot of difficulty, the skill or exercise is be broken into smaller movements for practice (in Pilates we refer to these a progressions of the exercise).
Stage 2 – The Associative Stage
The learner understands the fundamentals of the skill and is in the process of refining it. They experience fewer errors and can detect some of them on their own. Performances are more consistent and learners begin to know what is relevant and what is not. An associative learner may not perform the skill perfectly but they have an excellent understanding of how to do it. The learner needs to keep repeating the skill in order to begin to perfect it (repetition is key here, that is where the order of the exercises in Pilates comes into its own) Errors become less frequent at this stage of the process.
Stage 3 – The Autonomous Stage
During this phase the skill becomes part of motor memory (the mind-body connection). It is the third and final phase of learning and if you are in this phase you are referred to as an expert at that skill – when performing the skill requires very little thought and is performed every time almost perfect. Learners make infrequent errors and can use feedback (both external and internal) precisely.