Researchers at the University of California Irvine have looked at ballet dancers’ practice methods. Dancers use a strategy called “marking” to practice routines. Marking a routine involves a run through of a performance without fully completing each movement. The researchers compared the performance of dancers who using marking to learn a new routine, with dancers who practiced “at performance speed.” They found that the dancers who used marking to learn a routine scored more highly. It was hypothesized that this method of practice placed the emphasis on the task as a whole, and reduced cognitive load when engaged in the performance. It is possible that utilizing similar methods to teach other complex motor tasks could have a similar effect, although this study only looked at ballet.
This study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), used diffusion tension imaging to map the brains of healty individuals. They were able to identify an area of the brain, called the arcuate fasciculus, that was associated with the ability to learn new words. The arcuate fasciculus connects two key language areas of the brain, Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas, and connects the sound of words with the motor areas responsible for articulating the sound. People whose acruate fasciculus was more mylinated were able to learnn new words with greater ease. This indicates that hearing words is integral to learning new words.