Scroll Top

Does Virtual Reality Improve Motor Learning?


Take Home Points

  1. Specific virtual reality (simulator) training can improve motor learning, if proper feedback is provided

Motor skills are vital aspects of many sports. Baseball pitching, swimming, diving, and other highly skilled sports require precise motor skills, making precise practice essential for elite performance.

Simulator training is an effective tool when the skills on the simulator transfer to the real task. The simulator has to represent the real life situations of the real task, since key features are crucial during development of a movement plan. 
Recent studies involved hand-eye-coordination while providing augmented feedback or modifications of physical parameters in the simulator (Todorov 1997). Realism of these multimodal interactions in the simulator may enable a transfer of skills to the real task.
Rauter (2013) compared performance improvements in on-water rowing training and simulator training. They used two groups of four recreational rowers in his study. In the two weeks, both groups performed four training sessions with the same rowing trainer. The development in performance was assessed by a biomechanical performance measures and by a qualitative video evaluation of an independent Todorov (1997). Rauter (2013) believed both groups could improve their performance on water. Using biomechanical measures, this seems to allow only a limited insight into the rowers’ development. The independent trainer could also rate the rowers’ results. It was concluded, that realistic simulator training improved skill gains to a similar extent as training in the real environment and enabled skill transfer to the real environment. Simulator training can be further used to improve motor learning even to a higher extent.

In this study, the skill gain during training on a rowing simulator transferred to the gained skills to rowing on water. These were compared to skill gains through rowing training on water. Only the basic functions of the simulator were used: realistic rendering visual, auditory, and haptic interactions in a virtual environment. The interactions with the virtual environment were supported through results from a questionnaire and by similarities in biomechanical performance measures between rowing on water and rowing in the simulator. 

Skill gains in the simulator are expected to become crucial when feedback is added. Feedback should be a main focus for future studies on the simulator. The study also showed that the applied rendering addressed the key features of rowing. Visual, auditory, and haptic display require modulation in order to identify their impact on skill gains. A cost-effective but still training-efficient training device could be developed filling the gap between high-end simulators as presented here and rowing ergometers. However, proper motor skills training without a stimulator is likely ideal, when available. Future training programs can incorporate simulators when training is limited or unavailable.

  1. Todorov E, Shadmehr R, Bizzi E. Augmented feedback presented in a virtual environment accelerates learning of a difficult motor task. Journal of Motor Behavior. 1997 29: 147–158. 
  2. Rauter G, Sigrist R, Koch C, Crivelli F, van Raai M, Riener R, Wolf P. Transfer of complex skill learning from virtual to real rowing. PLoS One. 2013 Dec 20;8

Coach Chris