Sportopedia Glossary

Analogy Learning

Analogy Learning

An analogy is a comparison that is made between one thing and another for the purpose of explanation or clarification. Analogies can be used to facilitate learning of an unfamiliar task or concept by leveraging existing understanding of another task or concept that has common underlying features or structures. Gentner (1983) suggested that knowledge conveyed in this manner is not rule-based, but represents higher-order relationships among the rules of the task or concept.

Although initially investigated in the context of concept learning (esp. scientific concepts), analogy learning has also been investigated in the domain of skill acquisition. Coaches in sport often use analogies to convey information—just as a child can learn about the cardiac physiology of the heart by understanding what a pump does, a golfer can learn how to putt by understanding what a pendulum does.

In particular, analogies have been examined in the context of implicit motor learning when an analogy is used as an aid to motor learning, often in place of explicit instructions, beginners appear to acquire less explicit knowledge about their movements, which is a defining characteristic of implicit learning. There is also evidence that analogy learners display other characteristics of implicit motor learning, including stable performance under pressure or when multitasking (Liao & Masters, 2001).

It has been suggested that an effective motor analogy conveys information needed for successful execution of the to-be-learned skill in an integrated bundle (or chunk) of knowledge, rather than in discrete ‘bits’ of explicit information. Analogy learners use the knowledge to guide their performance without needing to manipulate many ‘bits’ of information in a bottom-up manner.

Researchers have begun to examine the efficacy of analogy learning in motor domains other than sport, including physiotherapy, injury prevention, speech therapy, and rehabilitation, as well as stroke and Parkinson’s disease (e.g., Jie et al., 2016).


Gentner, D. (1983). Structure-mapping: A theoretical framework for analogy. Cognitive Science, 7(2), 155 170.

Jie, L. J., Goodwin, V. A., Kleynen, M., Braun, S., Nunns, M., & Wilson, M. R. (2016). Analogy learning in Parkinson’s; as Learning 162 Learning, Analogy This book belongs to meg Wilson ( Copyright Elsevier 2022 easy as a walk on the beach: A proof-of-concept study.
International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, 23(3), 123 130.

Liao, C. M., & Masters, R. S. W. (2001). Analogy learning: A means to implicit motor learning. Journal of Sports Sciences, 19(5), 307 319.

***Contributed by Tina van Duijn & Rich Masters for Hackfort, D., Schinke, R. J., & Strauss, B. (Eds.). (2019). Dictionary of sport psychology: sport, exercise, and performing arts. Academic Press.