Tag Archives: dynamical systems

Newell on motor schema theory

Newell, K. M. (2003). Schema theory (1975): Retrospectives and prospectives. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 74, 383-388.
A brief commentary is provided on the theoretical assumptions, scholarly impact and continuing influence of the schema theory of motor learning (Schmidt, 1975). The traditional contrasts of schema theory to the coordinative structure or dynamical systems framework are reemphasized, and limitations of the variability of practice experiments noted. A central problem for theories of motor learning is change over time, the basis on which learning is typically defined. Most theories including schema have, however, undervalued the importance of the time-dependent nature of change in deference to the almost exclusive study of the amount of some averaged change in behavioral outcome. The persistent and transitory changes in movement and outcome that are observed in action are reflections of multiple time scales of change in a dynamical system.
Newell provides some historical context for the development of motor schema theory, highlighting its outgrowth from the 1970s concepts of motor planning and closed-loop theory. He sets up an argument that motor schema theory is inadequate to the task of explaining novel action, and that the proposed storage-savings offered by schemata are not necessary given moden conceptions of cognition.
Newell gives us a few notes to anticipate likely objections to a dynamical systems approach–1) complexity and coordination do not require a designer or central planner, 2) one can have a cognition based on representations, without requiring a symbolic architecture–and points out that schema theory offers little to account for where schema come from in the first place.

He argues that research supporting schema theory, which often relies on the observation that performance improves with varied practice (where we have a chance to dance around the target a bit), has historically had both internal validity problems (the effect of variability of practice is confounded with similarity effects), and external validity (limiting practice to a few score trials, and thus ignoring relatively permanent change for temporary effects).

Left unstudied by research in the motor schema are the development of new coordination patterns and issues of contextual interference. We need more research on just what it is we learn in motor learning: “what are the fundamental phenomena that reflect persistent and transitory change and need to be handled in a motor learning theory?” (That is, we need to describe the phenomenon before we can explain it.)

My questions
I found this critique vague. It levied a few charges against schema theory, and stated that dynamical systems theory doesn’t suffer from some limitations that others have apparently accused it of, but gives us few details about what dynamical systems has to offer.
Q1) p. 387 “one can accommodate the qualitative types of change in movement and action by a small group of principles from dynamical systems theory” What are these principles?
Q2) p. 387 “schema was and is both metaphorically and in reality more of a static than a dynamic theory of learning.” If motor schema are anything like the Piagetian notion of schema (or, indeed, the Kuhnian paradigms of science the author references), then is “punctuated equilibria” more accurate than “static.”
Q3) p. 385 What are non-symbolic representations like? Just laid-down “recordings” of neural patterns?