Variability of Practice and Contextual Interference in Motor Skill Learning

J Mot Behav. 1995 Dec;27(4):299-309. doi: 10.1080/00222895.1995.9941719.


The purpose of this study was to investigate whether learning benefits in multiple-task learning situations are a result of contextual interference or of schema enhancement related to the amount of variability in the practice session. Two experiments were designed that replicated and extended the experiment reported by Wulf and Schmidt (1988). In a 2 (same vs. different relative time) x 2 (blocked vs. random practice schedule) design, 48 right-handed subjects were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions. A tapping task was employed that required a right-handed tap of three small brass plates arranged in a diamond pattern. Each segment had a specific time requirement. Target times and response times were provided on a computer screen directly in front of the subject. Each subject participated in two acquisition sessions (i.e., 198 practice trials) and was tested for learning on several different retention and transfer tests. In Experiment 2, a control group was added that received no acquisition phase. Results of both experiments showed a typical contextual interference effect, with depressed scores by the random groups during acquisition but significantly better scores than the blocked groups on several retention and transfer tests. Certain characteristics of the tests were found to influence the demonstration of the practice schedule effects. These results were consistent with predictions from Magill and Hall (1990) that the learning benefits of contextual interference are more likely to occur when skill variations are from different classes of movement and that the amount of variability in practice is more influential when the to-be-learned tasks are parameter modifications of the same generalized motor program.