Motor learning is the ability to learn new movements and motions and to alter existing movements. It is present in the subtleties of reflexes, learning new skills, and physical rehabilitation. The application of this type of learning ranges from a baby speaking her first words to a professional violinist perfecting a complicated piece.
Movement is produced by the nervous system, and every person has unique movement behaviors that are specific to his or her genetic makeup, called motor patterns. The ability to learn how to affect the nervous system reactions in learning new skills and modifying existing skills is motor learning.
The cerebellum and basal ganglia are the primary regions of the brain that affect motor learning. The advanced human brain is capable of perfecting motor skills, even as subtle as reflexes, by repetitive training. A key aspect of this ability is the automation of movements that can be achieved with enough repetition. A great example of this is driving. Most people agree that after a while the movements of driving become second nature.
Motor learning is needed when acquiring a new skill that involves movement. Babies learning how to crawl and then walk is a great example of learning new motor skills. Learning how to ride a bike or use scissors are both examples of learning to use motor skills. Writing is another example of learned motor skills, where learning to manipulate a writing instrument to spell out words and sentences is a new way to use the muscles in the hand.
Motor learning is also used to improve existing skills that involve movement. Learning how to draw uses a lot of the same motor skills acquired when learning to write. The pen or pencil is held in the hand in the same way when writing and drawing, but the movements are different. Improving sports performance is another example of improving existing motor skills. When someone improves a golf swing, he or she doesn't need to relearn how to swing a golf club, but rather learns how to move or hold the club in a slightly more effective way.
Physical rehabilitation also requires motor learning. Physical rehab is needed for a few reasons, either when trauma has occurred, like an injury or surgery, or a person has undergone a major growth spurt. In any of these cases, old motor skills may have to be relearned or adjusted for a person to be able to move or perform the way he or she did prior to the change. In the example of knee replacement surgery, a patient may need to relearn how to walk with the new knee.