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Last Updated on October 30, 2019

How to Use Observational Learning to Learn Effectively

How to Use Observational Learning to Learn Effectively

Someone walks over, introduces themselves and raises their hand out in front of you. How do you know what you’re supposed to do next?

If this were the first time you saw this behavior, you wouldn’t have a clue. If you were from an Eastern culture, you might go to bow toward this person; you know what to do because since childhood, you’ve observed many adults shaking hands.

Observational learning is a learning theory in psychology that describes how we learn by watching and imitating others.

In this article, we will look into what observational learning really is and how it helps you learn and grow.

What Is Observational Learning?

Children learn many of their behaviors and expressions through observation. We pick up things as fundamental as walking, playing, gestures, facial expressions, and body postures via observational learning.

In the 1970s, psychologist Albert Bandura outlined a four-stage process of how observational learning occurs:[1]

  1. Attention: Notice something in the environment.
  2. Retention: Recall what was noticed (memory).
  3. Reproduction: Copy or mimic what you noticed.
  4. Motivation: Get reinforcement from the environment for completing the behavior (or punishment for not).

Pretty simple, right?

Neuroscience provides further evidence. Mirror neurons fire when one animal acts and another animal observes as if the neurons in one brain are mirroring the patterns of another brain.

The result?

You make a funny face at a baby. And the baby makes the same funny right back at you.

What Influences Observational Learning

Observational learning doesn’t always occur, so it’s essential to understanding the conditions in place when it does.

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So when are we more like to imitate others? It happens when:

  • You doubt yourself and your abilities.
  • You are confused or in an unfamiliar environment.
  • You’re in a position of authority, like a boss, leader, or celebrity.
  • Someone is similar to you in some way: interest, age, or social class.
  • You see someone getting rewards for their behavior.

For example, let’s say four people go out to an upscale restaurant. One person frequents this type of restaurant while it’s the first time for the other three individuals.

The person who is comfortable in this environment knows what to do: when and where to place the napkin, how the place setting works, and how to communicate with the wait staff. Because he knows what to do, in this situation, he’s the authority.

The rest of his company are in an unfamiliar environment. And when we don’t know how to behave, we tend to look around and observe the behavior of others.

Somehow, we know who to observe by picking up subtle cues. So without having to think about it, the rest of the party subconsciously looks around and begin to discern who the “expert” is and what he’s doing. And this sort of process frequently happens throughout our development and the rest of our lives.

How Observational Learning Supports Your Personal Development

Observational learning usually occurs subconsciously in social situations. That is, our basic need to belong, or “fit in,” drives us to adapt our behavior to the actions of others.

But the real power of observational learning comes from making this process active and conscious.

What does this mean?

Once you understand how observational learning works, you can choose to apply it in ways that support your personal and professional development.

Modeling

Modeling

is another term for observational learning. Let’s say you want to become an expert presenter. No problem. Find a few presenters that you believe are highly skilled and watch what they do.

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Pay attention to everything:

  • How do they hold themselves?
  • When do they pause?
  • How do they emphasize specific points?
  • Do they use slides? Imagery? Sounds?
  • What gestures do they make as they communicate?

Modeling the success of others is perhaps the fastest way to elevate your game and make rapid progress in your development.

Shadowing

In the workplace, observational learning is often called shadowing.

By shadowing an experienced employee for a period, you’ll naturally learn how to perform the tasks this person does each day. This process works effectively in sales environments too.

Apprenticeship

If you study the masters of any field, you quickly learn that they had great teachers or masters from whom they learned.

In Mastery, author Robert Greene points out that those who reach the level of mastery in any field submit to a rigorous apprenticeship to absorb the secret knowledge of those with many years of experience.

Similarly, in The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle highlights that anyone who cultivates talent has a master coach who knows how to break things down and teach things in a way that accelerates learning.

So if there’s any area of your life that you’re seeking mastery in, with who can you form an apprenticeship?

Here in this article, you can learn more about apprenticeship at work: What Is an Apprenticeship and What Value Can It Bring to Your Career?

Hijacking Your Behavior

Our brains, in many ways, are like sponges. We absorb what we observe.

While this observational learning can be a powerful tool for our personal growth and development, it can also be a destructive force.

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How?

Consider all of the bad behavior we witnessed when we were kids (and still today):

The list goes on. And yes, we observed and absorbed these behavioral patterns too from our parents, teachers, family members, and friends.

We also adopt behavior we observe on television and in the media. Studies show, for example, that teens who watched a lot of sexual content were more likely to start having sex soon after.[2]

Does this mean that watching violent movies will make you act violently? Not necessarily, but these images are imprinted in our unconscious and often later express themselves under the right conditions.

Here’s the bottom line:

Be very conscious of the media you consume and with who you spend your time. Our minds are like computer hardware and what we observe is like the software. So choose positive and life-supporting software if you want your brain to mimic it!

5 Ways to Use Observational Learning to Your Advantage

Here are five tips to make observational learning work for you:

1. Be Highly Selective on What, Who and When You Observe

Remember, observational learning is taking place whether we want it to or not. To harness this powerful force, consciously select who you are observing and in what context.

For example, if you know someone who’s highly productive in their work, ask to shadow them as they work.

But this individual may be an entirely different person when they aren’t working. So be mindful of what behavioral patterns you’re absorbing.

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2. Pay Attention to the Details

Those who achieve mastery in any area of their lives do so by mastering the fundamentals and then continually improving on more subtle levels. To the inexperienced eye, it’s often difficult to notice what they do differently.

In the case of negotiations, for example, a skilled negotiator knows how and when to disarm the other player. Sometimes these skills express themselves instinctively, so you may pick up on details in behavior the individual doesn’t even know they are doing.

3. Maintain a Playful Attitude

Many of us are conditioned to believe that seriousness is a valuable quality for learning. Psychologist Abraham Maslow, however, found that self-actualizing individuals,[3] or individuals with positive mental health, tend to have a more innocent, playful attitude when they are learning and developing.

Research also shows that we learn up to ten times faster in the areas that interesting to us.[4] So stay curious, open, and ready to learn.

4. Rehearse What You Observe in Your Mind

Studies show that rehearsing specific patterns of movement in our mind’s eye can help our brains encode desired actions and behaviors.[5] Many peak-performance athletes and musicians use this form of creative visualization training.

Visualization practices are extraordinarily powerful when you do it right before bedtime so your subconscious mind can process in the images while you sleep.

5. Don’t Just Observe, Do

To make observational learning stick, you must also do whatever it is you’re observing . Many companies combine shadowing experienced employees with hands-on training to accelerate the learning and development of new employees.

The Bottom Line

In the personal development space, observational learning is often called modeling the success of others .

Perhaps as you’re reading this, you’re already getting ideas of who you can start modeling.

Here are three questions to help you get started right now:

  1. What skills and behaviors to you want to learn?
  2. Who already possesses these skills and behaviors?
  3. How can you start modeling these individuals right away?

Now, make it so!

More About Learning

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Scott Jeffrey

Business Coach, Writer, and Mind Voyager

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Published on January 14, 2020

15 Effortless Memorization Tricks To Remember Anything

15 Effortless Memorization Tricks To Remember Anything

The struggle is real!

With so much happening in life, it’s hard to remember the details. In particular, names, due dates, requirements and locations slip from the mind every so often. But the memorization tricks outlined in this article should ensure that you never forget stuff that matters.

I used to have a problem with remembering names and faces.

You see, I meet new people every day from around the globe and it’s just too many new names and faces for my mind to register.

But I’ll tell you this:

It’s certainly quite embarrassing to have coffee with somebody and not recognize them the next day.

The problem is that forgetting is such a passive action that you often have no control over it.

Let me explain:

When you forget something, it’s not like you’re actively trying to. It just… happens and that makes it hard to inhibit your forgetfulness.

I mean, how do you stop doing something that you’re not really doing?

So, I just accepted that this is how it is and I’m going to have to live with it.

But several embarrassing encounters later, I’ve consolidated a list of memorizing tips that worked like magic for me.

I’ve used them to overcome my problem of remembering people and their names which has helped me immensely in improving communication and collaboration within and outside of my company.

Now before we dive into the memorization tricks that I wanted to discuss with you, let’s first take a look at how and why we forget.

The Science of Forgetting

In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus put forth his theory that outlined the “Forgetting Curve”.[1] This curve shows how much information we retain after a certain amount of time has passed since initially memorizing it.

You might be a bit concerned about how valid this theory is, given that it was initially presented in the 19th century.

But in a 2015 analysis, scientists found that the Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve was completely accurate.[2]

Fascinatingly, the Forgetting Curve shows that just after a day of memorizing something, we remember about 30% of it.

Before we jump into the memorization tricks in this article, I’d first like to explain to you why you forget in the first place. Knowing the root cause of forgetfulness will help you apply the information that you gather.

When you initially learn something, your mind transfers it into the hypothetical short-term memory chamber.

Your brain doesn’t know which piece of information is important and which needs to be discarded. So, it waits for a signal that helps it recognize important pieces of information that it can then shift into the hypothetical long-term memory chamber.

One of the more obvious of such signals is repetition. As shown in the forgetting figure below, repetition can change the shape of the forgetting curve.

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    All the memorization tricks and tips in this article revolve around signaling the importance of memories to your mind so it can move that piece of information from the short-term memory chamber to the long-term one.

    15 Memorization Tricks That Work

    Enough of science; let’s get into the business end of this article. Here are 15 memorization tricks that work:

    1. Say it 3 Times

    This is one of the simplest learning methods that I’ve been using and it seems to yield some great results.

    Make a habit of saying something 3 times as soon as you hear it. This will help you retain that information longer in your brain. In my case, when someone would tell me their name, I’d say it thrice under my breath. This signaled to my brain that this piece of information is important and I’d like to remember it.

    2. Link it to an Established Long-Term Memory

    What if you already have something in your long-term memory that you can link your new piece of information to?

    Imagine this:

    There’s a piece of information that resides deep in your hypothetical long-term memory chamber. Once you claim a new memory, you stick it to the old one.

    What do you think will happen?

    Of course, the new memory will retain better because of the strong memory that you linked it to.

    For instance, people set their 4-digit pin codes for their birthdates (or their spouse’s) all the time. It’s easier to remember because they have an already established link in their mind that’s probably never going to break.

    3. Type Away

    Writing something down is a common memorizing trick that works for many.

    The problem?

    You almost never have a pen and paper close at hand when you need it.

    So here, I decided to go a bit unconventional and use technology to my advantage.

    I started typing notes on my phone that I’d revisit before sleeping.

    A lot of times, I wouldn’t even have to revisit my notes because the mere act of typing them would help me retain that memory.

    But if typing it out doesn’t help, rereading it at night surely will.

    4. Spaced Repetition

    As mentioned above, further research on the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve showed that it’s best to revise a piece of information after a certain amount of time as it helps your mind retain it better.

    Now, what a lot of people do is that they try to repeat or revise a memory as soon as they attain it.

    But research shows that it’s useless to adopt that strategy. The goal isn’t to avoid forgetting that memory; it’s to forget it so you can relearn and solidify its roots in your brain.

    The same research suggested 4 repetitions; around 20 mins, 50 mins, 9 hours and 5 days after memorizing something.[3]

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    But it might not be practical to revisit a memory in that fashion. So, as we recommend in our article on Spaced Repetition, just revise an important memory 24-36 hours after initially learning it and you should see 90% above retention rates.

    5. Grasp the Concept

    Back in college, rote learning never seemed to work for me.

    No matter how many times I’d repeat a phrase and try to learn it by heart, I’d have completely forgotten it by the next day.

    So I tried to memorize the concept, not the words.

    This worked great for me back then and still works well when I’m trying to understand the mechanics of a company or a business.

    6. Interleaved Practice

    If you mix it up, you’ll see better results in memorization.

    Most people, when they’re trying to memorize or learn something, keep working at it until it’s all done or perfect.

    It doesn’t make much sense if you leave a memorization task in the middle right? Wrong!

    Research shows that if you learn two different things at once, you’ll learn them better. This is called interleaved practice.

    Now that are 2 reasons why interleaved practice shows spectacular resuLts:

    Similar memories get mixed up in the brain

    Interleaved practice makes it harder to recall a memory. And the harder the practice session, the better your results!

    7. Use Storytelling

    Without a doubt, storytelling is one of the most powerful skills that one can master.

    And the reason is simple:

    Stories captivate us like nothing else.

    Look at all the forms of entertainment that we have nowadays and you’ll see storytelling in each one of them; movies, songs, music videos, video games, vlogs… the list goes on.

    The reason is simple:

    Our brain is obsessed with stories.

    So the next time you’re trying to memorize something, try creating a story in your head that would help you remember it.

    8. Record Your Audio

    Here’s another fantastic memorizing trick that puts technology to great use.

    When you’re trying to memorize something, just audio record yourself on the phone and listen to it on repeat.

    You don’t need to do this for long. In fact, about 15-20 minutes of listening to yourself should be more than enough.

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    This is especially useful for auditory learners.

    9. Create Parts

    What if I tell you to memorize this number in 20 seconds:

    583957304

    I’m sure that sounds like a daunting task.

    But what about:

    583-957-304

    This looks easier although both numbers are essentially the same.

    The only difference in both numbers is that the second one has two dashes. Now, the dashes themselves aren’t significant. What’s significant is the fact that the dashes break the number into 3 parts.

    When you break the number, it becomes easier to remember. Your brain can then focus on individual parts and consolidate them in the end.

    In fact, this memorization technique is pretty much a setup to trick your mind into thinking the task is easier than it actually is.

    So, the next time you’re learning something extensive, create parts out of it and focus on each part individually.

    10. Focus on Keywords

    I like to use this method in conjunction with “Grasping the Concept”.

    You see, there are just some things that require word-for-word learning.

    And if you’re not good at it, then learning keywords becomes your last option.

    It’s likely that you’ve used this technique if you buy the groceries. All you do is memorize keywords like “6 eggs” but never “buy half a dozen eggs” because the rest of all the words contribute nothing (or very little) to the message.

    11. Say it out Aloud

    Here’s another learning trick for auditory learners:

    Say your words out aloud.

    I’m a firm believer that the more senses you stimulate while learning, the better you’ll learn.

    This means that reading alone (using your visual sense only) is not nearly as effective as speaking your words while you read them because it stimulates your sense of hearing as well.

    Ideally, you’d want to use this technique with writing or typing.

    12. Retain While You Sleep

    Did you know that sleeping could help improve your memory?

    Well, researchers from Matthew P. Walker and Robert Stickgold sure think so. In their research, “Sleep, Memory and Plasticity”, they maintain that sleep has a major role in “memory consolidation” and “memory reconsolidation”.[4].

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    Another research published in Current Opinion in Neurology shows that,[5]

    “Sleep is important for optimal learning.”

    By that logic, memorizing just before you go to sleep is a nice way of strengthening that memory. While you sleep, your brain should work on that memory’s consolidation and reconsolidation.

    Also, it’s important to get a good amount of sleep in for improving memory in general.

    13. Challenge Yourself

    Most people think that memorizing is all about reading and speaking.

    And that’s partly why they aren’t particularly good at it.

    Most of the time, we’re trying to memorize something all day but when the right time comes, our memory fails to support us.

    A good way to eliminate that problem is to test yourself in the middle of the day.

    Challenge yourself in the middle of the day to recall what you’re trying to learn. It doesn’t necessarily need to be in a learning environment. In fact, you could try recalling while you’re in the elevator, having lunch or walking to your office.

    14. Mnemonics

    Mnemonics have been for ages to learn a list of words in order.

    And the only reason why they’ve stood the test of time is that they work.

    In this method, you list out the first letter of each word and then try creating a sentence/phrase out of them that can be memorized.

    A common example is the “Roy G. Biv” mnemonic that’s used to memorize the colors of the rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet).

    Although recent research on effective learning techniques ranked mnemonics as a low utility learning method, the only reason for that was that mnemonics don’t have a wide variety of applications in general learning.[6]

    However, they work like magic if you’re trying to learn a foreign language or increase vocabulary.

    15. Use a To-Do List App

    The last memorizing trick on our list is to use a To-Do List app.

    A lot of these apps come with the added functionality of displaying your notes on the home screen of your phone.

    A lot of others come with a sticky notification of that note that appears 24/7 on your phone.

    By typing what you want to memorize in that note, you can then read it again every time you use your phone.

    And if you’re anything like the common man, this memorization trick should give you the opportunity to review your memory multiple times in the day.

    If you tend to forget easily, start trying these memorizing tricks. They’ve changed my life and will change yours too!

    More to Boost Your Memory

    Featured photo credit: Sincerely Media via unsplash.com

    Reference

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