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Last Updated on March 31, 2020

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

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on January 19, 2021

What Is Learning by Doing And Why Is It Effective?

What Is Learning by Doing And Why Is It Effective?

The list of teaching techniques is ever-expanding as there are multiple ways for us to gain knowledge. As a result, there are multiple techniques out there that leverage those particular skills. One such technique I want to share with you is learning by doing.

This technique has been around for a long time, and it’s a surprisingly effective one thanks to the various perks that come with it. Also called experiential learning, I’ll be sharing with you my knowledge on the subject, what it is deep down, and why it’s such an effective learning tool.

What Is Learning by Doing?

Learning by doing is the simple idea that we are capable of learning more about something when we perform the action.

For example, say you’re looking to play a musical instrument and were wondering how all of them sound and mix. In most other techniques, you’d be playing the instrument all by yourself in a studio. Learning by doing instead gives you a basic understanding of how to play the instrument and puts you up on a stage to play an improvised piece with other musicians.

Another way to think about this is by taking a more active approach to something as opposed to you passively learning about it. The argument is that active engagement provides deeper learning and that it’s okay if you make mistakes as you learn from those as well. This mentality brought forth a new name for this technique: experiential learning.

What Are Its Benefits?

Experimental learning has been around for eons now. It was Aristotle who wrote that “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

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Over the years, that way of thinking changed and developed and for a time was lost once computers were integrated into schools. It’s only been in recent years where schools have adopted this technique again. It’s clear why teachers are encouraging this as it offers five big benefits.

1. It’s More Engaging and More Memorable

The first benefit is that it’s more engaging and memorable. Since this requires action on your part, you’re not going to be able to weaken your performance. This is big since, traditionally, you’d learn from lectures, books, or articles, and learners could easily read—or not read—the text and walk away with no knowledge at all from it.

When you are forced into a situation where you have to do what you need to learn, it’s easier to remember those things. Every action provides personalized learning experiences, and it’s where motivation is built. That motivation connects to what is learned and felt. It teaches that learning is relevant and meaningful.

Beyond that, this experience allows the opportunity for learners to go through the learning cycle that involves extended effort, mistakes, and reflection, followed by refinement of strategies.

2. It Is More Personal

Stemming from the reason mentioned above, learning by doing offers a personal experience. Referring back to the cycle of effort, mistakes, reflection, and refinement, this cycle is only possible through personal emotions—the motivation and realization of knowledge of a particular topic tying into your values and ideals.

This connection is powerful and thus, offers a richer experience than reading from a book or articles such as this one. That personal connection is more important as it encourages exploration and curiosity from learners.

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If you’ve always wanted to bake a cake or cook a unique dish, you could read up on it or watch a video. Or you could get the ingredients and start going through it all yourself. Even if you make mistakes now, you have a better grasp of what to do for the next time you try it out. You’re also more invested in that since that’s food that you made with the intention of you having it.

3. It Is Community-Connected

Learning by doing involves the world at large rather than sitting alone in your room or a library stuck in a book. Since the whole city is your classroom technically, you’re able to leverage all kinds of things. You’re able to gather local assets and partners and connect local issues to larger global themes.

This leans more into the personal aspect that this technique encourages. You are part of a community, and this form of learning allows you to interact more and make a connection with it—not necessarily with the residents but certainly the environment around it.

4. It’s More Integrated Into People’s Lives

This form of learning is deeply integrated into our lives as well. Deep learning occurs best when learners can apply what they’ve learned in a classroom setting to answer questions around them that they care about.

Even though there is a lot of information out there, people are still always asking “what’s in it for me?” Even when it comes to learning, people will be more interested if they know that what they are learning is vital to their very way of life in some fashion. It’s forgettable if they’re unable to tie knowledge in with personal aspects of their lives. Thus, experiential learning makes the application of knowledge simpler.

5. It Builds Success Skills

The final benefit of learning by doing is that it builds up your skills for success. Learning by doing encourages you to step out of your comfort zone, discover something new, and try things out for the first time. You’re bound to make a mistake or two, but this technique doesn’t shame you for it.

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As a result, learning by doing can build your initiative for new things as well as persistence towards growth and development in a field. This could also lead to team management and collaboration skill growth. These are all vital things in personal growth as we move towards the future.

How to Get Started

While all these perks are helpful for you, how are you going to start? Well, there are several different approaches that you can take with this. Here are some of them that come to mind.

1. Low-Stakes Quizzes

In classroom settings, one way to introduce this technique is to have many low-stakes quizzes. These quizzes aren’t based on assessing one’s performance. Instead, these quizzes are designed to have learners engage with the content and to generate the learned information themselves.

Research shows that this method is an effective learning technique.[1] It allows students to improve their understanding and recall and promotes the “transfer” of knowledge to other settings.

2. Type of Mental Doing

Another approach is one that Psychologist Rich Mayer put together. According to him, learning is a generative activity.[2] His knowledge and the research done in his lab at Santa Barbara have repeatedly shown that we gain expertise by doing an action, but the action is based on what we already know.

For example, say you want to learn more about the Soviet dictator Stalin. All you need to do is link what you do know—that Stalin was a dictator—and link it to what you want to learn and retain. Stalin grew up in Georgia, killed millions of people, centralized power in Russia, and assisted in the victory of World War 2. This technique even applies to the most simple of memory tasks as our brain learns and relearns.

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3. Other Mental Activities

The final method I’ll share with you is taking the literal approach—getting out there and getting your hands dirty so to speak. But how you go about that is up to you. You could try reading an article and then going out and applying it immediately—like you could with this article. Or maybe you could find further engagement through puzzles or making a game out of the activity that you’re doing.

For example, if you wanted to learn about animal behavior patterns, you can read about them, go out to watch animals, and see if they perform the specific behaviors that you read about.

Final Thoughts

Learning by doing encourages active engagement with available materials and forces you to work harder to remember the material. It’s an effective technique because it helps ingrain knowledge into your memory. After all, you have a deeper personal connection to that knowledge, and you’ll be more motivated to use it in the future.

With that in mind, I encourage you to take what you’ve learned from reading this article and apply that in the real world. It’s only going to benefit you as you grow.

Featured photo credit: Van Tay Media via unsplash.com

Reference

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