SKILL vs FORM (fake it till you make it or break it) or: Why you need a casting instructor.

My mentor Dave Rothrock
My mentor Dave Rothrock

Kernodle M.W., McKethan R.N. & Rabinowitz E. (2008) Observational Leanring of Fly Casting Using Traditional and Virtual Modeling with and without and Authority Figure. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 107. 535 – 546.


In their study on teaching techniques Kernodle, McKethan, & Rabinowitz compared traditional modeling methods with modern “virtual” modeling methods. The traditional way to teach fly-casting is through a “hands-on” experience with an instructor or expert caster modeling the techniques and approach. The modern virtual modeling method used video segments of the cast arranged into modules in a computer program. This study examines the learning outcomes of students who receive training through traditional teacher directed methods with those who receive training through virtual methods. In addition the virtual modeling groups were further divided, one group received treatment with an authority figure (casting instructor) present and the other without an authority figure present.

The intent of this study was to compare and clarify results of previous studies that support observational learning of motor skills through virtual learning methods. Results of this study supported findings in previous observational learning studies that supported evidence of comparable learning outcomes and abilities between groups that learn a motor skill using a traditional or virtual observational learning method (Kernodle, McKethan, & Rabinowitz, 2008). However the research did also support that there was significant difference between the Virtual group and Traditional Group in discrete tasks measured by accuracy. In this measure the traditional group scoring higher however more research is required to verify the full implication of this finding. The study verified the hypothesis that virtual modeling is a sufficient method for teaching form. However the significantly higher scores of the accuracy test for the traditional group suggest there may be a difference between form (mimicking) and skill (cognitive ability).

Volunteers were randomly assigned into four groups: virtual learning without an authority figure (VL-NA), virtual learning with an authority figure (VL-A), Traditional (T), and Control (no training). Participants were college students’ ages 18 to 21 years old. All of the participants were pre tested for prior knowledge of fly-casting and were tested before and after each part of the treatment. Throughout the experiment the participants were graded before and after a demonstration or module on their ability and form of a specific function. The scoring was done by the same expert used as the traditional teacher and in the videos of the virtual modules. The scores were corrected using Huynh – Feldt correction to allow for application.

The researchers found that virtual modeling and traditional teacher guided observational learning result in similar outcomes. However it was found that in more discrete and involved tasks the traditional group significantly out performed the other groups. They also found that the NL-NA group learned form much faster than the other groups.

It would be irresponsible to imply this study suggests anything more than what is stated in the findings. However it opens the door to a new set of questions. First: is an ordered and segmented virtual approach using modules that isolate and explain individual functions without an authority figure a more effective and faster means to introduce form to a student than the traditional teacher guided method? Put another way: do students learn form faster and with more ease when a teacher is not breathing down their neck?

Next the researchers found a point at which all groups (except for the control group) reached a plateau in their performance after all modules/demonstrations were completed. The question then becomes: is there a point at which we “max out” our ability to improve with in a given time constraint? Is this a function of learning or does this also have to do with procedural memory?

Finally, and this is my favorite, the study found the traditional group scored “significantly higher” than the other groups in the discrete task of accuracy. The researchers also questioned the difference between skill and form and compared it to the difference between a deeper understanding and mimicking. The suggestion is that skill is information that has internalized to a higher degree than that of form. From an instructors opinion I think that form is foundational but not fundamental and an authority figure can help a student move past a functions of form that are inhibiting them from making progress overall. I realize more research needs to be done to compare traditional learning methods with virtual. Perhaps commonly employed methods in traditional teacher guided observational learning promote a type of “rehearsal” that allows information to transfer to long-term procedural memory more easily than in virtual learning methods? That is the topic for a whole other experiment.


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