The changes only have to be small, and could involve changing the environment/conditions which you are practicing the skill, or practicing the skill standing up instead of sitting down
The study involved 86 volunteers who were asked to learn a computer-based motor skill.
The results found that those who quickly adjusted to a modified practice session the second time around performed better than when they simply just repeated the original task.
In fact, the gains in performance, such as a faster and more accurate completion of the task, nearly doubled among those in a second group, who were given the altered second session, compared to those in the first group, who repeated the same task, said senior study author Pablo A. Celnik, M.D., professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Indeed, the highest gains were seen among those subjects who were able to quickly adapt to the change in conditions.
In particular, this supports the idea of a process called reconsolidation, in which existing memories are recalled and modified with new knowledge, which plays a key role in the strengthening of motor skills, said Celnik.
The change could be as small as changing the place or conditions you are learning the skill.
In other words, they cannot be too dramatic otherwise there will be no positive gains at all.
"If you make the altered task too different, people do not get the gain we observed during reconsolidation," he said.
"The modification between sessions needs to be subtle."
For instance, if you are planning on learning to play tennis, playing badminton in between sessions will bring zero benefits. Rather, if we stay with the theme of sport, it would be more in line with taking free kicks from different positions during soccer practice.
"What we found is if you practice a slightly modified version of a task you want to master, you actually learn more and faster than if you just keep practicing the exact same thing multiple times in a row," said Celnik.
"Our results are important because little was known before about how reconsolidation works in relation to motor skill development. This shows how simple manipulations during training can lead to more rapid and larger motor skill gains because of reconsolidation.
"The goal is to develop novel behavioural interventions and training schedules that give people more improvement for the same amount of practice time."
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If you are planning on learning a new skill, making slight variations to your training method will help you perfect the skill faster, according to a Johns Hopkins researchers report.