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The best therapist is a lifelong learner who can in turn then be a gifted teacher. To teach is to empower and to help ignite someone else’s possibilities and help bring a dream into being.

Cornerstone Concepts

  • Motor learning defined and differentiated from motor control

  • Types of learning including clinical examples

  • Motor learning theories: Adams’, Schmidt’s, and ecological theory

  • Key elements of learning and therapeutic considerations including the environment, arousal, attention, motivation, meaning, instruction, guidance, feedback, practice, and skill acquisition versus transfer

  • Stages of motor learning: Fitts model and Gentile model

  • The therapist’s role in acquisition and transfer and the importance of purposeful activity

  • Life span issues related to motor learning

  • Learning during childhood

  • Adult learners

  • Learning changes related to aging

  • Learning as affected by common neurological disorders

  • Learning for individuals with cognitive impairment

  • Learning after brain injury

  • Learning after a cerebrovascular accident

  • Learning challenges for individuals with Parkinson’s disease

Effective therapists think of themselves as teachers or facilitators of human movement education or reeducation. Patients/clients are learners and therefore are our students. It is imperative that physical and occupational therapists and assistants utilize effective teaching and learning strategies when working with patients/clients. This chapter is the first chapter in Part 2 of this text, devoted to application of theory to patient/client intervention. This chapter will discuss learning, specifically motor learning, offering concrete suggestions on how the clinician can effectively approach the client as a teacher approaches a student. Issues of life span learning and learning as it is challenged by commonly encountered pathological conditions will also be explored. A pediatric and an adult neurorehabilitation case study offer examples on the useful application of these principles.


It is important to differentiate among the processes of learning a skill, being trained in a skill, and performance. There is a distinction between temporary changes in performance and the relatively permanent changes that are associated with learning. Training occurs when the performer is provided with solutions to problems, such as when a therapist encourages a patient to memorize a specific set of exercise instructions or when a teacher provides a student with the correct answer to a specific question. Training often results in short-term performance capabilities. Performance is defined as a temporary change in behavior readily observable during practice sessions. Learning, on the other hand, occurs when the performer is encouraged to develop solutions to encountered problems (Fredericks & Saladin, 1996). When learning has occurred, the learner demonstrates the ability to actively problem solve and derive the solution in a variety of circumstances. Although training is appropriate in many therapeutic intervention situations, most therapeutic intervention should focus on learning.

Learning is defined as a relatively permanent change in the capability for responding that occurs as a result of practice or experience ...

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