Towards best practice in developing motor skills: a systematic review on spacing in VR simulator-based psychomotor training for surgical novices

Jan Torge Fahl, Robbert Duvivier, Laurens Reinke, Jean Pierre E.N. Pierie, Johanna Schönrock-Adema*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
31 Downloads (Pure)


Objective: Repeated practice, or spacing, can improve various types of skill acquisition. Similarly, virtual reality (VR) simulators have demonstrated their effectiveness in fostering surgical skill acquisition and provide a promising, realistic environment for spaced training. To explore how spacing impacts VR simulator-based acquisition of surgical psychomotor skills, we performed a systematic literature review. Methods: We systematically searched the databases PubMed, PsycINFO, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, ERIC and CINAHL for studies investigating the influence of spacing on the effectiveness of VR simulator training focused on psychomotor skill acquisition in healthcare professionals. We assessed the quality of all included studies using the Medical Education Research Study Quality Instrument (MERSQI) and the risk of bias using the Cochrane Collaboration’s risk of bias assessment tool. We extracted and aggregated qualitative data regarding spacing interval, psychomotor task performance and several other performance metrics. Results: The searches yielded 1662 unique publications. After screening the titles and abstracts, 53 publications were retained for full text screening and 7 met the inclusion criteria. Spaced training resulted in better performance scores and faster skill acquisition when compared to control groups with a single day (massed) training session. Spacing across consecutive days seemed more effective than shorter or longer spacing intervals. However, the included studies were too heterogeneous in terms of spacing interval, obtained performance metrics and psychomotor skills analysed to allow for a meta-analysis to substantiate our outcomes. Conclusion: Spacing in VR simulator-based surgical training improved skill acquisition when compared to massed training. The overall number and quality of available studies were only moderate, limiting the validity and generalizability of our findings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number154
Number of pages15
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13-Mar-2023


  • Medical education
  • Psychomotor skill
  • Spaced training
  • Surgical training
  • Virtual reality


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