Principles of Motor Learning: Massed vs. Distributed Practice

Principles of Motor Learning: Massed vs. Distributed Practice

Principles of Motor Learning: Massed vs. Distributed Practice

Principles of Motor Learning (PMLs) refers to patterns of learning that have emerged from research into human movement. The bulk of this research has evolved from disciplines outside of Speech-Language Pathology (e.g. exercise and sport), and the research within our field though growing, is still in its very early stages. Nevertheless, PMLs are increasingly being investigated as they apply to speech therapy in the hopes that a solid understanding of PMLs can help Speech-Language Pathologists optimize their work with patients/clients struggling with motor speech challenges, such as Childhood Apraxia of Speech. Dr. Edwin Maas has been at the forefront of synthesizing the applications of PML research to Speech-Language Pathology. He has an excellent video on the Apraxia Kids On-Demand Webinars library, and his team's tutorial on Principles of Motor Learning in the Treatment of Motor Speech Disorders is published in Volume 17 of the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. This blog post series will summarize some of the key PMLs has outlined in those sources.

Principles of Motor Learning as they pertain to speech therapy apply to two broad categories of intervention: Practice Conditions and Feedback Conditions. Practice Conditions in a nutshell are what the patient/client/student does, Feedback Conditions are what the therapist/communication partner does. Practice conditions refer to aspects such as how much the individual practices, and how often, while feedback conditions refer to how and when the therapist/communication partner responds to what is being practiced.

 This post is part of a series on Principles of Motor Learning, and will highlight the Practice Conditions: Massed vs. Distributed Practice

For additional PMLs and more in-depth discussion, please refer to the sources listed above.

Massed vs. Distributed Practice

In massed vs. distributed practice the analysis is around the same amount of practice (e.g. 100 trials) over different spans of time. E.g. Massed might be 100 trials in  one 60 minute session vs.   distributed 100 trials over 4 x 20 minute sessions. In the non-speech related literature, distributed practice is better for learning and retention. However, neuroplasticity studies that are largely animal based favour massed practice. However, in these studies massed and practice  amount of is often conflated, so the picture is not too clear.

With regards to speech studies, research that focusses on dysarthria and apraxia in adults shows fairly equal results for distributed and massed practice, while research focussing on children (3 studies in particular) - including childhood apraxia of speech much more heavily leans in favour of massed practice. 

 For speech motor learning MORE TRIALS IN A SHORTER TIME is more effective. 

Massed vs. Distributed Practice in Action

 A central mantra at The Speak Boutique is: More repetition of fewer targets. Our massed-practice mantra is reflected in our products in a variety of ways:

The poems in Party Animals! are intentionally highly repetitive - the animal name is repeated every line to facilitate massed practice for children who would benefit from practicing a single word (syllable shape) at a time. For example, in the poem Hotel Hippo, the word "Hippo" (potential targets: CVCV, lip rounding in a CVCV, air stream control for /h/ in a CVCV). The predictable poem structure makes it easy to read the poem as a cloze-sentence task, where the child can finish the adult's sentence. All poems in Party Animals! follow this structure.

Hotel Hippo is comprised of exclusively words beginning with /h/, so that children who need to master /h/ and can manage /h/ in a variety of syllable shapes can get massed practice of that target. 

For those children, the Sound it! cards from the What's that Sound? Speech Cue Cards set also offers an opportunity for massed practice of a variety of sounds. Example of /h/ here: 

Hippo Card from What's that Sound? Speech Sound Cards box

The cards in What's that Story? Story Telling Cards allow further extension of the poem for more massed practice in a different activity. 

Every month, The Speak Boutique adds a new free activity sheet to our store. The worksheets are intentionally repetitive in nature to allow for massed practice at home. In this one, if the child's target is "hippo", the adult might cue by saying, "Hat on . . ." and the child completes the sentence "hippo". 

Free Hippo Activity Sheet for #childhoodapraxiaofspeech

 To learn more about Principles of Motor Learning, check out our other blog posts on the topic:

Knowledge of Results vs. Knowledge of Performance.


Principles of Motor Learning and Childhood Apraxia of Speech: a (hopefully) Gentle Introduction Presented by Dr. Edwin Maas

Principles of Motor Learning in Treatment of Motor Speech Disorders, Maas Edwin, Robin Donald A., Austermann Hula Shannon N., Freedman Skott E., Wulf Gabriele, Ballard Kirrie J., Schmidt Richard A. (2008) American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology

doi: 10.1044/1058-0360(2008/025)


The Speak Boutique, Speech Language Pathology Product Line, Resources for Parents and Professionals, Party Animals, What's that Sound? Speech Sound Cards, What's the Story? Storytelling Cards



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