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Published on December 26, 2019

What Is Observational Learning (And How to Make It Work for You)

What Is Observational Learning (And How to Make It Work for You)

Observational learning is the acquisition of knowledge based on another individual’s behavior, thoughts or emotions. Learning this way, you may not even realize you have learned something until you actually demonstrate the skill.

Observational learning is based on four different stages which involve active participation by the learner. This ensures comprehensive and long-lasting learning which is very effective because not only does it help you gain knowledge it helps you retain it, reproduce it when needed and even reinforce it.

The four stages of observational learning are:

  1. Attention – If you are paying attention to your surroundings, you will absorb a lot more than you think are. When you learn to be attentive in a certain situation, you will be learning from it the entire time.
  2. Retention – This is the part where your brain is committing details to memory and making connections with information it has stored from earlier instances by forging new neural pathways.
  3. Reproduction – A key stage in observational learning is when you, as the learner, are required to reproduce from memory the knowledge you committed to it earlier. This reproduction could be verbal or through actions.
  4. Reinforcement or Motivation – The final stage of observational learning is reinforcement or motivation. As a learner, there is no reason for you to reproduce any knowledge unless you are motivated to do so, or you need to reinforce your knowledge for deeper understanding. This motivation could be a reward for knowledge well retained or a skill well used.

There are unlimited opportunities for observational learning in the real world.[1] As a learner, you are responsible for training your brain to be open to absorbing knowledge and being in situations that will help maximize the learning from opportunities presented.

Here are a few strategies you can adopt to make observational learning work for you:

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1. Find the Right Person to Learn from

It has been proven through multiple studies that people learn better from those who fit a certain profile that attracts the learner:

  • It’s someone you respect. You will always learn a lot from the person you respect, even if this person is not actively seeking to teach you. You will focus on them when they speak, you will observe their mannerisms and you will unconsciously learn from all the things they say and do around you.
  • It’s someone you identify with. A person you identify with on any level will always be a good teacher. It could be someone in a position of authority or a peer. You could feel this person has experienced some of the same things that you have and has managed to rise above them. This connection with someone will make you more tuned to them and help you learn by observing them. Athletes, celebrities and other successful professionals who have overcome hardships are popular options for observational learning.
  • It’s someone you’re attracted to. It could be a celebrity, a peer or anyone else at all. You could be attracted to for any reason at all: their looks, talent, popularity, sense of humor, lifestyle. All these are factors that make a person attractive to you and you subconsciously learn a lot from them.
  • It’s someone at a higher “level” than you. This could be a senior executive at your workplace, a teacher in college or a sibling. Any person who is in a position of authority and is well able to shoulder the responsibility their position brings is a good option.

2. Shadow Your Teacher

Do you love a sport? Have you ever found yourself making the same play you saw your favorite player making? You might have admired a basketball player and spent hours shooting hoops the way he did, even though he never taught you personally. This is a classic example of observational learning.

Being around the person you want to learn from and observing them as they go about their business will open up immense opportunities to learn.

Take the example of a medical student who is assigned to a rotation led by a doctor considered an expert in his field. This student will be walking behind the doctor on his rounds, taking mental notes of his behavior with patients, other staff and students and how he goes about treating the patients. This is also one of the best examples of observational learning.

Similarly, if you are looking to learn how to sell, shadow a person with a good reputation and proven skills. Observing this person as he goes about selling a product or service will impart better learning than textbooks.

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3. Seek to Reproduce Learning the Rewards

There would be no reason for you to reproduce any learned behavior if there was no consequence for it. While some things reproduced can result in negative consequences (think extra chores for breaking a vase playing football indoors), you should actively seek to reproduce only those actions that will get you a reward.

This reward could be a better playing technique that gets you on the team, a good bedside manner when dealing with patients or anything else that you think is fair for reproducing a desired behavior.

The process of reproducing any learning that will reward to means you are first off paying attention when the learning opportunity is presented, and also that you’re making an effort to commit the learning to memory.

4. Take Good Notes

Does this sound contrary to observational learning? It really isn’t. When you have stepped out of the learning environment and are working to commit the newly acquired knowledge to memory, writing it down helps. A lot.

Rephrase your learning. Write out notes in your own words unless there’s a phrase that you think is perfect or if you are using a direct quote.

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Remember, the brain remembers in pictures. If words aren’t your thing, use mind maps, mnemonics or any other aid that will help you revisit the information you just committed to memory.

5. Reproduce Your Learning

A fantastic way to recall observational knowledge is to reproduce the said learning. Teach someone else what you have learned and focus on remembering the details. You could also ask to reproduce the information in front of your teacher. This is a great opportunity to know if you remember right!

You can also repeat the information to yourself again and again until you are sure you know it well.

6. Rest Your Mind

In order to learn from observation, your mind needs to be alert to everything that is happening around it. A well-rested brain is proven to be better at learning and making new connections.

If you don’t already have a routine, create one and stick to it. You should aim for 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep so your mind refreshes (our body produces a fluid at night that flushes toxins away from the brain). Here’s how I create my routine: Powerful Daily Routine Examples for a Healthy and High-Achieving You

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Give your mind a few minutes to disconnect throughout the day so when you need it to connect with your surroundings, it is ready to do so. Take a look at this guide on meditation: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly It can give you some great tips!

When you’re in an intense or even boring environment, your brain can disconnect because of information overload or sheer boredom. If you are distracted where you need to be focused, take a break. A short walk outside, a drink or even a few moments in the sun will do you a world of good.

7. Play Mind Games

No, not the mind games that mess with another person. We mean the kind that keeps your mind sharp and focused.

Memory games with cards, find the difference, Sudoku, crosswords are all games that will help. You could also memorize an image then recall it by either writing about it or drawing it yourself.

You can find some more ideas to boost mind power in the article 7 Brain Training Habits to Easily Boost Your Brain Power.

Bottom Line

So, here’re 7 ways you can try to make the most of observational learning. They’re strong, proven techniques that will make this type of learning effortless yet successful.

More About Effective Learning

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

“Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

“The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

“The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

    Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

    1. Build a Memory Palace

      What is it?

      The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

      How to use it?

      Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

      “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

      Example

      An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

      • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
      • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
      • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
      • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
      • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

      You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

      2. Mnemonic

        What is it?

        A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

        How to use it?

        Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

        Example

        I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

        I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

        Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

        Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

        Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

        Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

        C

        J

        H

        D

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        P

        Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

        Cubs

        Just

        Hate

        Doing

        Push-ups

        Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

        3. Mnemonic Peg System

          What is it?

          According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

          How to use it?

          The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

          Example

          Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

          0 = hero

          1 = gun

          2 = shoe

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          3 = tree

          4 = door

          5 = hive

          6 = sticks

          7 = heaven

          8 = gate

          9 = line

          Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

          4. Chunking

            What is it?

            Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

            How to use it?

            In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

            Example

            Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

            Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

            081127882

            Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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            081 – 127 – 882

            Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

            “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

            5. Transfer of Learning

              What is it?

              Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

              “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

              How to use it?

              There are two specific ways to use it:

              1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
              2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

              Example

              I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

              Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

              The Bottom Line

              The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

              We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

              Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

              “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

              More About Enhancing Memories

              Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
              [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
              [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
              [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
              [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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