Disabilities Implicit learning

Does target size matter?

When teaching a child to throw, does it matter how small or large the target size is?

In a study examining children with intellectual disabilities, Catherine Capio and colleagues showed that target size has a significant impact on learning to throw.

Small or Large Target?

A small target results in many errors, and errors usually lead to an error-detection-and -correction style of learning. However, learning from errors places demands on cognitive resources, thereby making it difficult for individuals with impaired cognitive functioning.

A larger target, in comparison, reduces errors and, therefore, does not require learners to detect and correct errors.

Key Findings

Children were divided into two practice groups. One group learnt to throw by initially aiming at a small target, which gradually increased in size (called error strewn practice). The other group learnt to throw by initially aiming at a large target, which gradually decreased in size (called error reduced practice). All children completed 5 practice sessions.

The children that practiced with a larger target at the beginning demonstrated:

  • Greater improvements in throwing accuracy and technique from pre- to post-test
  • A better ability to multi-task.

With regards to this latter finding, the children who initially learnt with the small target displayed a significant decline in performance when required to multi-task during the post-test. It was suggested that these children became reliant on engaging cognitive resources when performing the skill; thus, performance declined when cognitive resources were directed to a secondary task.


Given that children are constantly required to multi-task, such as when playing with friends in the school playground, it seems that a larger target is more beneficial when practicing skills such as throwing.

Hence it is recommended to provide larger targets in an attempt to minimise errors during the early learning phase – particularly for children with intellectual disabilities.



Capio, C. M., Poolton, J. M., Sit, C. H. P., Eguia, K. F., & Masters, R. S. W. (2013). Reduction of errors during practice facilitates fundamental movement skill learning in children with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 57(4), 295-305.


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