Principles of Motor Learning: Blocked vs. Random Practice

Principles of Motor Learning: Blocked vs. Random Practice

Principles of Motor Learning: Blocked vs. Random 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 the last of a series on PMLs, and will highlight the  Practice Conditions: Blocked and Random Practice. For additional PMLs and more in-depth discussion, please refer to the sources listed above.

baskets of fruit representing blocked and random practice 

Blocked vs. Random

Blocked vs. Random Practice refers to how targets are sequenced within practice. Blocked and random practice are inherently variable because you are organizing DIFFERENT (i.e. variable) targets.

Blocked refers to grouping the same targets together, random would be mixing up targets.

Bringing it back to a speech example – if our targets are bilabial closure, airstream control for /h/ and  labiodental control for /f/ and /v/ in CVCV words, is it better to do bilabials first, then /h/, then the labiodental practice, or to alternate between the targets. 

Random practice tends to be better than blocked practice, but we have some some evidence that blocked before random is even better. Blocked practice may be optimal when concentrated in the earlier parts of a session, and then have random practice predominantly in the remainder of the session. Principles of Motor Learning will feature heavily in my presentation at the Apraxia Kids Conference in Texas in 2 weeks! 

Below is a sample session plan using Party Animals! products available here indicating which parts of the session you could use for blocked practice and which might lend themselves more to random practice (in additional to other opportunities for incorporating literacy and  additional principles of  motor learning). 

 sample lesson plan incorporating literacy and principles of motor speech with speak boutique party animals products


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



Leave a comment

* Required fields