How to Identify & Measure Learning in Golf. Dr. Tim Lee's Introduction to Motor Learning in Golf, Part 2
In part 1 of this introduction to motor learning, we talked about motor learning as a process of improving the coordination of sensory, motor, and cognitive processes (that is, not building “muscle memory.”) In this article, we focus on how learning is identified and measured.
Learning means that improvement has occurred – whether it is acquiring a new language, playing a musical instrument, or hitting a golf ball. But, learning does not imply just any improvement, it must be relatively permanent. The change in performance has to stick over time – be it a day, week, or month later – the improvement cannot just go away. If it does, then we would not classify the improvement as having been learned. An example is someone who is able to eliminate a nasty slice on the range, only to have it reappear on the first tee. Was the improvement learned? Likely not.
Remember back to part 1, in which we said that learning implies an underlying change inside the body (the brain, specifically.) However, since we cannot look inside the brain while a golfer is practicing, this underlying change cannot be observed directly. We can measure performance, and golf has many measurable parameters – how our bodies move, where the club goes, and the way in which the ball responds are just a few of the parameters that can be recorded. But, these performance measures tell us nothing directly about the underlying changes that we call learning. For that, we use performance measures to make inferences about what, inside the body, has changed.
Another important idea is that learning is something that results from practice in which there is a deliberate attempt to improve skill. Improvements can occur because bodies change. Children get bigger and stronger as they age, and performance improvements often occur due to maturation alone. As well, we often see performance improvements when golfers become more physically fit. And while a physically-fit body may allow the golfer to do more (due to enhanced flexibility, for example,) it still requires practice for learning to occur.
In the end, learning must be inferred from improvements in performance that have been maintained over a period of time. Immediate, short-term improvements that may have occurred because of a lesson, training-aid, or other temporary “boost” to performance are not considered to be strong indications of learning. Performances on the course or on standardized tests are considered much stronger indications that improvements have “stuck” and that learning has occurred.
In the Part 3 of this introductory series, we delve deeper into the motor learning process and describe two components of schema theory and why these are key to understanding the motor-learning process.
A note from Team GLT: It's our priviledge to be able to bring you this biweekly series from Dr. Timothy D. Lee, a leader in the field of motor learning. If you're interested in learning more about motor learning while waiting for the next installment, visit the motor learning certification section of our site.