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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

How to Use Observational Learning to Learn Effectively How to Get Motivated When Depressed and Frustrated What are MBTI Types and How Can They Affect Your Career Choices?

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Published on November 18, 2019

7 Simple Note Taking Techniques for Efficient Learning

7 Simple Note Taking Techniques for Efficient Learning

Whether you are going back to college or have decided to take learning into your own hands, note-taking is a skill that is truly unique.

On the surface, it can seem like jotting down the important points or stating everything word for word. But delving into the world of note-taking begins a realization that there is more to it than that.

So if you feel like your note skills are rusty, or if you didn’t care much about note-taking, here are some strategies to help you prepare and succeed in this area.

What to Do Before Note Taking

There are all kinds of strategies and systems in place to be taking notes. Some are more formal methods for taking notes while others are strategies that have helped others in the past. But before jumping into note-taking techniques, there are some things to consider prior to learning:

Adopt a Note Taking Mindset

Even our attitude and behavior plays a factor in our ability to take notes. For example, snacks with high sugar or high salt will impact our ability to pay attention to. This also applies to coffee which – if not consumed in moderation – can impact sleep and your ability to pay attention and focus as well.

In this regard, we can see already how mood can impact our ability to take notes. If we’re not focused or easily distracted, we will have a tougher time putting together accurate notes. But that is a more extreme case.

If you’re someone who doesn’t drink coffee or has a snack before class, attitude can still play a significant role. Think back to classes that you weren’t that excited for or that you were bad at. The only reason those topics are not your strong suit can be chalked up to your attitude.

Think about it:

The topics you excelled at made you feel good and you had a vested interest in. This is no different from other pursuits in your life. Compared to things you lack interest in, it’s clear that you would make no effort to learn about something that you don’t want.

So attitude makes a difference and this logic can be applied to even topics you’re not big on. All you need to do is have a positive attitude, pay attention, and study with a classmate or two.

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Preparing Before Class

First, if you are taking a formal course, it pays to be prepared. One study by Spies and Wilkin[1] found that law students who read a legal case before getting to class displayed deeper understanding of the material compared to others.

This doesn’t apply to courses where you are assigned reading but in all manner of courses. With plenty of information made available at our fingertips, there is a lot of opportunities for us to learn about the subject before a course or a training session.

This will pay off for you as you’ll spend more time focusing on understanding the tougher aspects of a topic rather than absorbing the information as is.

7 Note Taking Techniques for Effective Learning

In Miami University’s public database, there is a course outlining note-taking and active listening [2]. These particular methods are some of the more popular methods for taking notes.

1. The Outline Method

This method is used for simplicity and is one of the easiest methods of taking notes. Anyone can pick up this method and use it with no issues.

When using this method, the idea is to select four or five key points that are going to be covered in a specific lesson. Under those key points, you write more in-depth sub-points based on what is being discussed on those topics.

The idea with this form of note taking is so it doesn’t overwhelm you. But you’ll pay attention in a different manner. In the case of this approach, if you know what’s being discussed, you’ll focus on the important aspects of that topic rather than wonder what’s coming up next.

Use this method in cases where:

  • You want your notes to be organized from the start.
  • To see the relationships between both topics and subtopics.
  • You want to convert the points into questions to quiz yourself on later.

2. The Cornell Method

Developed in the 1950s by Cornell University, this is the most common note taking method around. In fact, the outline method is likely inspired by this method as there are similarities to it.

In this method, you are still using key points, but this method goes deeper into the organizing method. For one, the page is broken into three sections:

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  • a narrow column called the “cue”
  • a wider column for your actual notes
  • a summary at the bottom

The cue section is the section where you fill out main points, people, potential test questions and more. This section is devoted to helping you recall larger topics and ideas.

The note section is devoted to expanding and explaining those cue points. You still want to summarize them to an extent using headings. When getting into specifics, you want to indent them and use a numbering system, either roman numerals, numbers, or letters.

The summary section is the section you write up at the end summarizing all of the information in a clear sentence or two. You want both the summary and the cue to be simple seeing as your notes are where you want all of the details.

Here’s an example illustrated by Comprehension Hart:[3]

    This method is great if you:

    • Want notes to be organized even further and easier to review.
    • Want to pull out major ideas and concepts quickly.

    3. Mind Mapping Method

    Mind mapping is a method that works for subjects that have interlocking topics or complex and abstract ideas. Chemistry, history, and philosophy are examples where this method shines.

    The use of the map is to serve as a visual aid for how every topic is related to one another. It also allows you to go into detail on particular ideas or topics. An example of this at work is looking at the French Revolution.

    First, you’d start with that concept at the center and then begin branching off that led to events, and people that sparked the French Revolution.

    You can start off with broad general ideas and during the course or when you are reviewing, you can add in sub-concepts to those branches. Things like dates, support facts, concepts that you see between people and events.

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    That being said, this method doesn’t apply to  only those kinds of topics. Any kind of topic that you can break into various points can also help as well. Another example can be talking about different forms of learning and using the nodes to discuss each method and what each one is like.

    Learn more about this method here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    This type of method for note taking is great for:

    • Visual learners who struggle with studying via notes.
    • For people who need to remember and connect relationships, and events with topics.

    4. Flow Notes Method

    Discussed in a post in College Info Geek,[4] this method is for those who want to maximize active learning in the classroom and save time in reviewing.

    The idea of flow notes is to treat yourself as a student rather than transcribing word for word. In this method, you’ll jot down topics, then start drawing arrows, make doodles, diagrams and graphs to get a general idea out there.

    This method also helps in drawing other bridges and form connections in various fields or within the subject. If some information reminds you of another piece of information or technique, make a note and jot it down.

    Take a look at this video to learn a bit more about this method:

    The only catch with this method is that while it’s great for learning at that moment, you may have a tough time reviewing them later. You may want to pair this method with another method mentioned above.

    5. The Sentence Method

    Another simple method and is a lesser version of flow notes. The idea with this is a simple note-taking. You’re jotting down everything that’s being said to the best of your ability. It’s genuine transcription at it’s finest.

    The problem with this method is that it can be tough to keep up with everything else that’s happening. If you’re writing notes by hand, you will definitely be missing key points and ideas. On a computer, you may be able to keep up, however, you may face challenges still.

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    Despite those problems, there are still advantages to this method. Compared to every other method, this provides the most details and information for review:

    • You can still be brief by covering the main points.
    • Your notes are already simplified for you to study and review them immediately.

    6. Charting Method

    Charting notes take the Cornell method and divide a sheet into three columns. Similar to the mind mapping method, this helps you in connecting relationships and facts together between topics.

    This method is a lazier method than the other ones mentioned above but works for the people who want to highlight key pieces of information on various topics and want to organize facts for easy review.

    7. Writing on Slides

    The final method is another strategy for people who can’t be bothered to take extensive notes. This method works well particularly in classes where the instructor provides slides that they’re using for their lectures.

    Whether it’s a handout or you can download them online, all you need to do is print them off and start writing away on them.

    This method is great because it removes a lot of the worry of taking general notes. Since ideas and concepts are already discussed, it’s a matter of expanding those notes already.

    What Note Taking Techniques Are the Best?

    As you may have noticed, each method is good in its own situation. Depending on what you’re learning – and your own preferences – each method has advantages.

    It’s also worth noting that every person learns and studies in a different manner. With this in mind, consider how you study and figure out the method that best compliments it.

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    Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

    Reference

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