Discovered by educational psychologist Albert Bandura in 1986, observational learning is the learning that takes place through watching others. This type of learning is often included in a style of progressive education and can affect an individual, a group of people, a nation or a culture.
Understanding Observational Learning
Observational learning is not the same as pure imitation of another behavior. Observational learning occurs as a result of witnessing another person, but is performed later and cannot be explained as having been taught in any other way. This type of learning also encompasses the concept of behavior avoidance as a result of seeing another person behave in a certain way and receive a negative consequence.
The four stages of observational learning are:
Examples of observational learning include:
- An infant learns to make and understand facial expressions
- A child learns to chew
- After witnessing an older sibling being punished for taking a cookie without asking, the younger child does not take cookies without permission
- A newer employee avoids being late to work after seeing a co-worker fired for being late
- A child learns to walk
- A child learns how to play a game while watching others
- A child shows that she has learned the basic steps of cooking a meal by doing so at a play kitchen in her classroom
- A child learns a science concept by demonstration from the teacher
- After watching her mother, a young girl shows she has learned how to hold a baby by walking around with the baby in her arms the correct way
- An inexperienced salesperson is successful at a sales meeting after observing the behaviors and statements of other salespeople
- A child shows observational learning of how to drive a car by making appropriate motions after seeing a parent driving
- A young boy swings a baseball bat without being explicitly taught how to do it after attending a baseball game
- A young girl watches a basketball game, then shoots hoops without being explicitly taught how to do so
- Without previous experience, a child puts on roller skates and skates without being taught.
- A student learns not to cheat by watching another student be punished for cheating
- A girl sees another child fall on ice in front of her so she avoids stepping on the ice
- A person moves to a new climate and learns how to properly remove snow from his car after watching others
- A tenant sees a neighbor evicted for late rent payment and as a result consistently pays her rent on time
- A new customer in a store learns the process for lining up and checking out by watching other customers
- A woman in a clothing store learns the procedure for trying on clothes by watching others
- A man in a coffee shop learns where to find cream and sugar by watching other coffee drinkers locate that area
- A new car salesperson learns how to approach potential customers by watching others
- A girl learns how to mow her own lawn by watching neighbors mowing their lawns
As you can see, you encounter examples of observational learning all the time and have likely learned many things yourself using this method of learning.