Peer-guided practice of motor skills

If you were asked to organize a partner’s practice, how would you choose to do it? Would you use the same strategies you would use for yourself? In this study, we wanted to explore how people organize practice for a partner of equal (low) skill and compare this to how they choose to organize practice for themselves. Participants practiced 3 different tasks (involving timed sequences on a keypad). Some individuals chose for themselves which task to practice at the start of each trial (i.e., they were in control of the order of trials) or they were told which task to practice by an observing partner. These observing partners chose for their partner to switch between tasks more frequently than learners chose to do when in control of their practice. Even though there is a significant body of work showing that this high switching can be good for next day tests of performance, because it encourages more effort during practice, this additional challenge did not impact accuracy in a later retention test. Both observer partners and individuals who chose how to practice switched between tasks after relatively good performance (i.e., low timing error), showing that similar practice strategies are adopted by observers and actual performers. As long as practice is organized in a way that is performance-dependent (what is termed “adaptive”), it does not seem to matter who makes the practice order decisions. Because the observing partner did in general opt for a more challenging schedule, which in other research has been shown to aid later retention, it is important that further research is conducted to see under what conditions, a peer might know best as to what’s good for you!