Learning versus performance: an integrative review

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2015 Mar;10(2):176-99. doi: 10.1177/1745691615569000.


The primary goal of instruction should be to facilitate long-term learning-that is, to create relatively permanent changes in comprehension, understanding, and skills of the types that will support long-term retention and transfer. During the instruction or training process, however, what we can observe and measure is performance, which is often an unreliable index of whether the relatively long-term changes that constitute learning have taken place. The time-honored distinction between learning and performance dates back decades, spurred by early animal and motor-skills research that revealed that learning can occur even when no discernible changes in performance are observed. More recently, the converse has also been shown-specifically, that improvements in performance can fail to yield significant learning-and, in fact, that certain manipulations can have opposite effects on learning and performance. We review the extant literature in the motor- and verbal-learning domains that necessitates the distinction between learning and performance. In addition, we examine research in metacognition that suggests that people often mistakenly interpret their performance during acquisition as a reliable guide to long-term learning. These and other considerations suggest that the learning-performance distinction is critical and has vast practical and theoretical implications.

Keywords: instruction; learning; memory; motor learning; performance; training; verbal learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Speech Perception*