Not everyone learns in the same way, but it is human nature to observe. As children, we learned to engage and make sense of the world around us through seeing how family and friends, or role models, interacted with our surroundings.
Canadian Psychologist, Albert Bandura, developed a social learning theory showing Observational Learning as a process of learning through seeing other people interact with our environment. In this CPD article, we explore the importance of learning by seeing, the benefits as well as some key examples of observational learning.
What is the importance of observational learning?
Simply put, observational learning is said to be learning a particular behaviour by observing others, who are called models. The learner looks at the person who demonstrates to them how to do a task or behaviour. The importance of observational learning comes into play when the participant or learner has observed the details and skills of a task over a period of time and can themselves recall those skills in a particular situation.
Observational learning is not imitation or copying the role model, rather it is identifying that the new learned skills are needed and how they can be used. Generally, it has been found that if the person has certain characteristics, such as power, popularity, is seen as an authority figure or an expert, the learner will look favourably towards them. The more comfortable the person is in their environment, the more they are likely to gain benefit from observational learning.
What are the 4 processes of observational learning?
Observational Learning can be broken into four stages or processes. The easiest method of seeing how observational learning works is by looking at how children learn to do things and navigate their environment, and how they learn to interact around them. They repeatedly see their parents do a task or show a behaviour in certain situations. As age increases, the child also gains speech and skills which enables them to behave a certain way or fulfill a task. Each step of observational learning can be broken down into the following areas.
To learn from another person, you must be paying attention to what the role model or instructor is doing. It may involve the learner watching someone directly perform a task.
The activity or process that you are learning must be remembered. That’s why it important to pay attention. The amount of information that the learner will retain will depend on how much attention they were paying to the task being performed.
This is repeating what has been seen. If you’ve paid attention and have retained a memory of the action, you will be able to reproduce it. By observing a task, you should have be able to reproduce what you have seen when you need to use those skills in the future.
The participant must want to learn the action. If the learner does not have any motivation or interest to learn the action or task, it will be harder for them to pay attention to the task they are being shown. That leads to being unable to reproduce the task as they have not acquired the skills needed. Motivation is the most important process in observational learning. For example, to become a manager in your organisation, you must have a certain skillset. To achieve that, you must be motivated to obtain these skills.
Benefits of observational learning
The benefits of observational learning may not be immediately apparent as there is no formal means of teaching or learning with this method. However, there are several advantages that we have outlined below:
Learning a new skill: The obvious benefit of observational learning is that it enables the learner to learn a new skill, meaning this is a cost effective method in the workplace.
Reinforcing positive behaviour: It promotes and enhances workplace morale as workers learn from each other. People can learn positive behaviours from observing, in this case, from their co-workers.
Learning in your natural environment: An individual will be more relaxed when learning in an environment they are used to, whether it’s a child in the home, or a person learning a new skill at work. If the surroundings are comfortable and familiar, they are more likely to be less stressed and so learn more easily.
High accuracy: If a trainee is in the workplace, learning from a colleague who already knows the skill, there will be a higher rate of accuracy. This can also be seen in an apprentice learning from their expert role model leading to a more efficient workplace.
Using the correct tool: If a learner is in a working environment, they will learn the task or skill using the correct tools for the job, making it a more efficient and cost effective workplace.
Inclusive: In the workplace, learners are focused on the task at hand. This means that they don’t need to divulge personal details about their own lives, nor do they matter. The task is the focus and is therefore inclusive to all.
What are some key examples of observational learning?
Many examples of observational learning date back to our childhoods but we can all still use this method of learning in our adult lives, in both personal and professional development.
On the job training can pair new members of staff with existing employees. The skills and knowledge of existing members of staff can be passed on by seeing how processes actually work. There’s no doubt each workplace will have their own way of doing things, existing staff members can pass this knowledge onto new employees.
Apprenticeships: If you are an expert in your field and have years of experience, an apprentice may come to work with you. Although there may be some form of reading or classes, the majority of skills will come from learning from the expert. Apprenticeships can last a number of years as the learner takes information from their role model and then learns how to initiate their skills on their own.
Video Training: We use video training in both in our personal and professional lives and many formal courses now incorporate videos into their training. Whether it be health and fitness exercises online for personal benefit or a CPD course to benefit our professional development, video training can show a learner how to do a specific task, giving them the skills and knowledge needed to do a particular job or work-related task.
We all learn through observation. Social behaviours and tasks are learned from childhood, enabling us to navigate the world and workplace. New skills, tools and computer systems can all be learned through observation and is now an essential part of training such as online courses, workshops and seminars, making this kind of learning important when it comes to Continuing Professional Development.
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