Distribution of Practice in Motor Skill Acquisition: Different Effects for Discrete and Continuous Tasks
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Research on the benefits of distributed practice for the acquisition and retention of motor skills has a long history. The majority of this research has involved skill acquisition of continuous tasks. However, there is some evidence to suggest that distribution of practice effects are quite different for discrete tasks than for continuous tasks. In the present study, we used a single task, formed discrete and continuous versions of the task, and examined how acquisition and retention were affected by the length of inter-trial interval. The basic task was a movement timing task that involved either one timing estimate per trial (the "discrete" version) or twenty successive estimates per trial (the "continuous" version). Separate groups of subjects learned one version of the task under either distributed (25 s inter-trial intervals) or massed (0.5 s inter-trial intervals) practice conditions. Both massed and distributed retention trials were performed on the same version of the task according to a double transfer design. The results confirmed the apparent disparity: Acquisition and retention were facilitated by distributed practice on the continuous task, but by massed practice on the discrete task. These results were discussed in terms of the role of the inter-trial interval in discrete and continuous tasks.
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