The Learning Click

Edward Thorndike is one of the godfathers of motor learning. He lived in the late 1800s into the early to mid 1900s and studied a variety of different psychological topics.

From his research, I’ve used several key takeaways in adult learning, and have witnessed what I like to call the “learning click”. This is in reference to a client’s body and brain finally “clicking” on what we are working on.

I see the click in the body language and confidence of movement, and whenever I see it, I get this fire of joy deep in my belly. It feels like surfing my first wave all over again. It’s the ah-ha moment and I can visually see clients go through this often when we work on paddling technique together.

On our trip to Lakeside Surf last summer, I got to witness it with a surfer riding the wave. It wasn’t a paddling technique clicking, but rather a surf technique clicking. And it was crazy for me to witness that in the moment (actually I witnessed it when re-watching the video).

This click happens because of two of Thorndike’s principles:

  1. One half of his “law of exercise” which stated the following:
    • Law of use– the more often an association is used the stronger it becomes.
  2. The other called the “Identical elements theory of transfer”
    • The extent to which information learned in one situation will transfer to another situation is determined by the similarity between the two situations. The more similar the situations are, the greater the amount of information that will transfer.

Watch this video.

See if you can see when the surfer clicks (exact timestamp of the click is down below).

He was able to use the theory of transfer and the law of use to connect this foreign environment to surfing in the ocean. And the goal of the trip was that from then on, he would be able to get more reps in than we would in the ocean. Finally, he would then use the theory of transfer to transfer this motion back to the ocean from this experience of repetitive practice (law of use).

Did you see it?

Remember, progression in motor learning is fundamentally grounded in focused repetitive practice. The learning click will happen, so just let it happen naturally. You can’t force it. Let the repetitive practice guide your brain towards the click and enjoy the ride.

Until next time, I'll see you in the water…


(there was a small click at 0:20 on a frontside pump, but the strongest learning click happened at the 0:31 mark and is clearly visual in the roundhouse completed immediately after at 0:33 – and Barry hooting – compare the movement to his previous cutbacks. See the body language become much more comfortable and natural at 0:33 – so freaking cool).


Learn more about the paddling technique courses and our coaching surf trips by contacting us

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