What are the principles of motor learning and why are they important?
The traditional or motor-based approaches utilized to treat speech sound disorders specifically focus on the motor aspects of sound production. The traditional approach emphasizes teaching the placement of the articulators and the motor movement patterns needed for speech sound production. Therefore, speech sound production is a motor-based skill.
Motor learning is a “set of processes associated with practice or experience leading to relatively permanent changes in the capability for movement” (Schmidt & Lee, 2005, p. 302). A learned motor skill results from two different levels of performance that are demonstrated during the acquisition and learning phase and the retention and transfer phase. During the acquisition and learning phase, motor performance is demonstrated through the establishment of the ability to execute a specific motor skill. This perspective emphasizes that acquisition is the product of practice. Retention and transfer reflect the level of learning that is considered the permanent change in the ability to demonstrate the skilled movements as measured by retention of the skill after the training and practice have been completed. The level of performance during the practice phase of motor learning does not predict retention and transfer of the skill (Maas et al., 2008).
Motor-based approaches have a long history in the treatment of speech sound disorders, yet the research is limited regarding the principles of motor learning and speech-motor learning. Maas and colleagues (2008) have examined the application of the basic principles with intact motor systems. This research can be applied to traditional motor-based interventions with children who demonstrate speech sound disorders.
Maas and colleagues (2008) have emphasized three areas of study in motor learning principles in which evidence supports the application to the intervention of speech sound disorders in children. The three areas are pertinent to the conditions of practice and include prepractice, principles of practice, and principles of feedback. It is important to utilize this structure in the implementation of motor-based articulation intervention.
Further, the principles of motor learning are applied differently depending on where the child’s articulation skills are along a continuum of motor skills development from acquisition to retention. Application of the principles of motor learning to speech production offers promising insight into optimizing treatment (Maas et al., 2014).
This ATE is an excerpt from the course, 20Q: Principles of Motor Learning and Intervention for Speech Sound Disorders, authored by Carol Koch, EdD, CCC-SLP, ASHA Fellow, BCS-CL.