In motor learning strategies, two terms that can be confusing are blocked practice and massed practice. Practice can be a very useful and empowering method to promote occupational performance and goals in occupational therapy.
Both of these types of practice are types of motor learning strategies. Blocked practice can be thought of as the opposite of random practice. These two are practice schedules and random practice is just what it sounds like – different tasks or variations of tasks may be practiced randomly before they are mastered. With blocked practice, think practicing in “blocks”, one task is practiced repeatedly and mastered before moving on. There are repeated trials and learning opportunities in blocked practice.
What is massed practice then? Massed practice is another type of schedule in which there’s “a learning procedure in which practice trials occur close together in time, either in a single lengthy session or in sessions separated by short intervals”.1 The opposite of massed practice is distributed practice. There is more time (breaks) in between practice, such as to allow for rest.
Blocked Practice vs Massed Practice
“While a blocked schedule requires the learners to practice the same task in repeated trials before continuing to the next task, a massed schedule requires the learners to practice different tasks without rest”.2 Both types of practice schedules are very similar, but the subtle difference is in whether the task is the same or different. A blocked practice schedule involves the same task, whereas a massed practice schedule can be different tasks, despite multiple back-to-back practice attempts.
Pros and Cons
According to Physiopedia, “massed practice may be more beneficial for rapid skill acquisition, but distributed practice tends to be better for long-term skill retention and learning.” Motor skills are learned more effectively when there is a long break between training sessions (spacing). Overall, random practice is seen as more beneficial as it promotes generalization of a learned task or skill.3
While patients practice these skills, they are often not doing them alone, but along with the occupational therapist. OTPs can strategically provide feedback to their clients based on their performance. Frequent feedback can be beneficial as it can increase performance variability by correcting small errors as they occur. However, this is not a general rule. The exact amount of feedback depends on many factors such as the complexity of the skill and the needs of the client.4
- Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4–58.
- Bisson T. Motor Learning – Back to Basics Course. Plus. 2020.
- Wulf, G., & Mornell, A. (2008). Insights about practice from the perspective of motor learning: a review. Music Performance Research, 2, 1-25.