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Fitt’s and Posner’s Phases of Learning Essay

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Describe “Fitt’s and Posner’s” phases of learning and explain how you would structure practises to enhance a performance

In this essay I will explain Fitt’s and Posner’s phases of learning and how I would structure practises to enhance performance.

By practising a skill we can become better. Fitts and Posner theories were that everyone has to go through stages of learning, known as the cognitive, associative and autonomous stages of learning. Depending how good a person is at a particular sport, they will fall into a certain category. An example of this is Wayne Rooney. At a young age he was introduced to football and played amateur football from a young age, becoming one of the youngest strikers in football history.

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However by learning a skill in sport involves the development of skills by practice. An example of this is shooting practise – you can only become good by practising to kick the ball in between goalposts. Until a person becomes confident enough that they score a goal, they will naturally fall into the next category.

The three stages of learning can be divided into two main categories; associationists and cognitivists. Associationists views learning of a sport as the link of particular stimulus and particular responses. Cognitivists see it as a function of the brain, where we learn through the understanding and knowledge of the sport.

There are 3 stages of learning according to Fitts and Posner. They are:







This is the initial stage of learning and is essential if the learner is to process successful through the other stages and is to move a stage where the skill can be performed.

The cognitive stage involves formation of a mental picture of a skill. The most efficient way is from a demonstration, which allows them to see the key requirements and to work through the performance mentally. Visual guidance is one of the best ways to make others understand, and so that the person learning can see the correct method to perform the skill. They will then attempt to perform.

Success rate is usually 2/3 out of 10. The cognitive stage initially concentrates more on the skill, rather than the game. There is a lack of control and consistency. Trial and error is also a key way to learn. Reinforcement of this can be by giving positive feedback.

Questions will arise when learning skills of a sport if the skill is not correctly learnt. The learner will be confronted with some very specific, cognitively oriented problems. Examples of this are, “How do I score?” “What is the aim of this game?” “If so, where are the positions for players?” If the mental picture is not correct the skill will not develop. It is important that the coach explains very thoroughly what is required of each athlete.


Learning at the associative stage means that the skill is becoming more consistent, but there are still some errors. The simple element of the skill has been grasped however the performer still refers back to the mental picture. The performer can begin to detect errors and begin to realise his/her mistakes. Feedback should encourage a ‘feeling’ of a well performed skill. This means that the performer will begin to enjoy the sport. Success rate is 5/7 out of 10. Verbal guidance is essential as it is used in the associative stage.

Some people never exceed this phase. An example of this is a semi-professional shot-put thrower. Some performers return to the cognitive stage to refer to the mental image of the skill. Also, some professional players return from autonomous stage to the associative stage if they have an injury – they need to work hard and rise up to the expected standard of an autonomous performer.


Learning at the autonomous stage is where the skill is done without conscious thought. The movements of the performer are fluent, consistent and athletically pleasing. There is an advanced stage of learning where the elements of the skill have become part of long term memory and are automatically produced in response to a an appropriate stimulus.

The skill is automatic. The attention of the performer focuses on the next movement, for example tactics. Consistent practise is required to reinforce being at the autonomous stage.

Success rate is 9/10 out of 10. In tennis for example a player would be able to perform a serve whilst contemplating what their opponent will do next, rather than being focusing on the technical side of the serve.

Not all performers reach the autonomous stage in all skills. For those who do, if practise is not maintained revision to the associative stage will occur. Closed skills such as throwing events can be finely tuned so that a high level of performance can be produced.

“Learning in its simplest form is the development of a position where we can’t perform a skill to a stage where we can perform it.”

Knapp, 1973

The quote means that learning is a more or less permanent change in performance brought about by experience. Knapp is suggesting that once something is learnt, it remains with us, thus supporting the statement:

Once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget’.

Learning in sport involves the development of skills through practice, hence the saying:

‘Practice makes perfect’.

Fitts & Posner recognised that as we learn, we do not move directly from “can’t” to “can”. They suggest that the learning process is sequential – we move through specific stages/phases as we learn.

These stages are hierarchal, in other words each stage must be passed through before the next one is achieved.

Ivan Pavlov was a scientist who conducted experiments on the response of dogs. He taught them that when a bell was rung, the dogs would learn to understand that it was time to eat. These findings link into Fitts and Posner’s phases of learning because a particular response with a stimulus can give a great benefit to sports performances. This approach can be used to mentally prepare the athlete for the sport. The player may be taught switching into the ‘zone’ whilst walking onto the pitch. However in order to achieve this, the player would need to gradually progress to that level of conditioned stimulus.

In order to teach and improve somebody’s skills at a sport, I would structure a 6 week Personal Exercise Programme (or PEP). A PEP would help improve the skill of the performer, and help the learner to enhance their performance. This way the performer can test to see how long it takes him to master one specific skill. As a trainer I would encourage the performer and give feedback and give a clear understanding to the performer what they are doing right and wrong. Doing something wrong doesn’t mean its negative feedback it would just acknowledge the performer on how to improve, becoming more successful. I would ensure that the performer practices the skill consistently and monitor any improvements in their ability.

In a professional football match I would help keep the players to the standard that is required by making them do drills as a team. Warm-ups are essential as they prevent muscles getting damaged. I would also make sure that the stamina of the players is always high; this can be achieved by the Cooper run.

In a tennis match the athlete must be able to complete a full match. There are no substitutions so the athletes’ stamina must be high. By hitting a ball for a long period of time every other turn there must be a large amount of upper body strength. In order to help the athlete achieve this, the coach should set the athlete physical training such as sprints, press-up, sit-ups and bicep curls. Technique is needed when serving, volleying; as being able to retain balance quickly is essential. An example of this is Andre Agassi.

“…he focused more on physical conditioning than in the past and became one of the fittest players on the tour. His upper-body strength allowed him to bench press 350 lb (159 kg), which helped him retain pace on his shots late into a match, as well as adding to his serve power. He had remarkable endurance and rarely appeared tired on court.”

Golf is a sport where the athlete has to be very concentrated on the game. Having a perfect technique allows one to compete to a high level. In order to help raise concentration levels the coach must remove all apprehension and put the athlete in a confident frame of mind. To help an athlete raise concentration before a game the coach could give the athlete a structured diet. Junk food will slow down the concentration rate. Tiger Woods had a bad putting strike so he went home and perfected it.

“Well, that’s one of the worst putting weeks I’ve had in a long time, very frustrating. When I get home I am going to practise until I get it right.”


* Advanced P.E for Edexcel – Heinemann

* http://nobelprize.org/educational_games/medicine/pavlov/readmore.html.

* http://www.answers.com/topic/andre-agassi

* http://www.asapsports.com/show_interview.php?id=410149

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