Is there a place for implicit learning in physical education and sport?

The results of Work Package 2 within the project ‘Participation in sports’, have recently been processed. During the past two years, we developed a classification system of implicit- and explicit learning strategies in sport and physical education. This classification system gives an overview of the implicit- and explicit learning strategies that can be applied by sport coaches and PE-teachers. The system was developed in cooperation with dr. Dirk-Wouter Smits and students from Utrecht University (Pedagogical Sciences department).

Through this classification system, we were able to measure how often implicit- and explicit learning were used during training sessions and PE-lessons. De results are striking and very clear: the vast majority of used methods to improve motor learning, is of explicit nature. This applies to 91.8% of the used learning strategies. Implicit learning strategies are only used in 8.2% of all instructions. Implicit learning methods seemingly aren’t part of PE-teachers’ and sport coaches’ toolboxes. This is remarkable since from a theoretical point of view, implicit learning strategies are an appealing alternative for children with a motor impairment. This since they often have an impaired working memory.

We also interviewed the thirteen PE-teachers, three sport coaches and 65 children with Cerebral Palsy that participated in our research. The main question was how they experience implicit- and explicit learning strategies. There seems to be a discrepancy in the preference for an implicit- or explicit learning strategy: PE-teachers and sport coaches more often prefer explicit learning, while children more often prefer implicit learning. PE-teachers and sport coaches experience that explicit instructions are not always understood, but resolve this by repeating or explaining instructions in a slightly different way (again verbal). Switching to an implicit strategy would possibly be a more effective alternative that better suits preferences of children. Finally, the questionnaires show that children with Cerebral Palsy would like to receive better individual instructions.

Only 37% of PE-teachers in special education and none of the three interviewed sport coaches is familiar with the distinction between implicit- and explicit learning. Both PE-teachers and sport coaches would like to know more about strategies that would best suit children with Cerebral Palsy. They also express a clear need for examples of implicit learning. An important target of the project ‘Participation in Sports’ therefore lays in developing a (digital) handbook and/or online platform where examples of implicit- and explicit learning strategies can be shared. In the next phase of research within Work Package 2, we will examine the extent to which knowledge about implicit learning strategies is useful for PE-teachers and sport coaches, and whether it leads to an increase in the use of implicit learning.

In October, November and December, three items about these results will be published in the LO-magazine of KVLO (the Royal Association for Physical Education in the Netherlands). These items, as well as the full research report on Work Package 2, are in Dutch. The results on the use of implicit- and explicit learning is translated in English though.

You are more than welcome to inform us about your opinion on these findings! Remarks and suggestions can be sent to info@meedoenmetsport.nl .