You Are a Baby: The Stages of Motor Learning
Have you ever witnessed a baby learn to walk? You may even remember that very first step forward, preceded by concentration and anticipation, and followed by cheers of excitement from the witnesses. The baby’s first step, woohoo! Then what? A triumphant march across the room, out the door, to the playground and back for dinner? Maybe if the baby is superhuman, but what’s more likely is that after that first step or even a few steps, the baby falls over. And over the following days, weeks, months, the baby continues to attempt to walk, loses balance, falls over, and tries again.
There are three stages of motor learning
- Cognitive – In the beginning there is a lot of conscious effort (baby’s brows may furrow as they attempt to take a single step), there are lots of errors (falling) and a lot of literal and figurative hand-holding is needed at the stage (physical support and encouragement)
- Associative – This is the refining process, and where we spend the most time learning a new skill. A baby doesn’t quite have the hang of walking just yet, but they have an understanding of the process. They’ll still fall over but with less frequency, and they become more successful at taking steps without having to hold on to something
- Autonomous – This stage is exactly what it sounds like, the skill being learned is now automatic and internalized. At this stage, not only can the baby walk, but can now adapt by stopping, turning, speeding up and slowing down.
In your lessons you may have had an “a-ha!” moment. Something clicked, and you made that first successful step forward! But even though you made that connection (cognitive stage), you still need to practice and refine (associative stage) before the skill becomes automatic. After that aha moment, it can be frustrating when you go at it again and can’t replicate it. Just know that that’s part of the process and why we practice!