Can We Learn Through Observation?
Observational Learning, also known as "modeling", is learning by observation or imitation. The concept of observational learning was developed by Albert Bandura (1986 & 2000) to eliminate trial-and-error fashion in learning, and to make learning less tedious and less hazardous than associative learning.
Learning by observation involves four stages and processes - attention, retention, reproduction and reinforcement.
- Attention. Before observation can occur, one should attend to the teacher or mentor. According to research, warm, powerful and atypical people command more attention than those who are cold, weak and typical.
- Retention. Retention in observational learning involves imaginary coding and storing of information in memory. In order to progress to the next stage, one must be able to code and store needed information in memory.
- Reproduction. This is the stage where imitation occurs. But reproducing behavior depends upon a limiting factor - physical capability. This is the reason why dogs cannot walk upright, despite seeing, observing and knowing that all people around them walk that way.
- Reinforcement. This is the core concept of operant conditioning as applied in observational learning. A good example would be Bandura's experiment, wherein he let children watch two videos - one where a person who displayed aggressive behavior was punished, another where the person was rewarded, and another where the person didn't display aggressive behavior. Bandura found that the children who watched the video of rewarded aggressive behavior immediately displayed the behavior. However, when Bandura promised reward to those children who watched the punished aggressive behavior, the children remarkedly reproduced the aggressive behavior. This means that the children were able to attend to and retain the aggressive behavior in memory, and seem to be waiting only for reinforcement to reproduce the behavior.