The process of learning by watching others is called Observational learning. It is classified as a form of social learning, and instead of reinforcement the learning occurs through social role models like parent, teacher, sibling, or a friend.
In short, the kind of learning that occurs by observing someone else is called observational learning. Even though you were not familiar with the term, observational learning is something everyone practices naturally. This is the form of learning that doesn’t need teaching and just comes naturally.
- A child learns to make and different facial expressions by observing his/her mother.
- A child learns to walk through observation.
- A newer employee is always punctual after seeing a colleague get fired for being late.
These are only some of the examples of observational learning that occurs in a daily basis. Observational learning starts occurring from the early stages of the life.
A child learns to interact with other people by observing their parents. The parents are not teaching these behaviors directly. But, the child nevertheless, imitates different actions by watching others. In psychology, this is exactly what observational learning means.
Human Observational Learning
Not all behaviors learned through observational learning are those needed for survival. Also, it isn’t a must that the model should be trying to teach the observer intentionally. There are different cases in which the observer observes, remembers, and imitates the actions even when the model might not have intended to teach the learner anything.
For example: A child may learn to smoke, fight, smack, swear and similar other inappropriate behaviors by observing poor role models.
Albert Bandura claims that the observer could learn both positive and negative behaviors through observational learning. His theory also suggests that the individual’s cognition, environment and behavior all play a role in shaping up the mentality of the individual.
Individual behaviors have also been seen to be observed across a culture. This process, within observational learning, is referred as diffusion chain. The basic idea is that an individual learns a behavior by observing a model individual. Then, that individual serves as a model to other individuals who learn the behavior, and so on.
Example: A child in a class might pick up swearing from someone. Kids being kids, the behavior might be picked up by everyone in the class.
In ancient communities, where adults and children’s activities aren’t differentiated, children are allowed to be a part of adult world through early age. And, when their primary mode of learning is observational, they pick up habits demonstrated by the adult models. Also, culturally they learn the value of being a part of the particular communities, and this encourages them to make an effort to participate and contribute in the community.
Example: Take Indian tribal communities for instance. Through observational learning, children picked up activities like hunting, fishing and other communal activities at an early age.
Also, cultural variation has also been seen to play a part in a manner information is processed and learned by an observer.
Example: Children in rural parts of India and children in the US are taught in different settings. Because of the difference in the setting and the way they are brought up, the way in which they possess information can be different. For instance, children in India might be more family oriented and have a different sense of judgment of actions. On the other hand, American children might be more individualistic and have different moral grounds for judging certain behaviors.
Observational learning is something that has also been practiced in the modern world intentionally with intent to teach and learn. Apprenticeship is an example that involves both observational learning and modeling. Apprentices spend time with their masters in order to gain the skills in the field through observation and evaluation of works of their fellow apprentices.
Example: Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo were all apprentices of their masters in the field, before they went on to become and experts themselves.
Observational Learning is not something that only occurs in humans. The phenomenon has also been widely assessed in animals. However, because observational learning is associated with high intelligence, not every living creature can learn through observation, even though they might stumble upon performing the same action accidentally.