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Last Updated on January 27, 2021

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. With this type of learning, you may not even realize you have learned something until you actually demonstrate the skill.

The most famous example of observational learning is the Bobo doll experiment[1], where a group of children watched adults hitting an inflatable doll (or not). Those who saw adults hitting the doll repeated this behavior themselves, demonstrating that observation plays an important role in human development.

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, but it helps you retain it, reproduce it when needed, and even reinforce it.

The Four Stages of Observational Learning

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.

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.

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.

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 retaining knowledge or using a skill well.

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There are unlimited opportunities for observational learning in the real world.[2] 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 around you.

How to Make Observational Learning Work for You

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:

Someone You Respect

You will always learn a lot from a 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.

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 attuned 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.

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. Whatever it is, it makes you sit up and pay attention, which will aid in observational learning.

Someone at a “Higher Level” Than You

This could be a senior executive at your workplace, a teacher in college, or an older 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.

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2. Shadow Your Teacher

If you’re an athlete, 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 s/he did, even though s/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. This student will be walking behind the doctor on his/her rounds, taking mental notes of their behavior with patients, other staff, and students and how they go about treating the patients.

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

3. Seek to Reproduce Learning that Offers 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), you should actively seek to reproduce only those actions that will get you a reward, as this plays an important role in your motivation.

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 offers a reward means you are paying attention when the learning opportunity is presented, and also that you’re making an effort to commit the learning to memory.

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4. Take Good Notes

While this may 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 great deal.

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.

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 what you learned. 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’ve remembered information correctly.

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 wakes refreshed and ready to learn.

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Give your mind a few minutes to disconnect throughout the day so that when you need it to connect with your surroundings, it is ready to do so. Meditation can be a great option for this as it creates space for the brain to rest.

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, drinking a coffee at a café, or even a few moments in the sun will do you a world of good.

7. Play Brain Games

Memory games with cards, find the difference, Sudoku, and crosswords are all games that will help keep your mind sharp. You could also memorize an image and try to recall it by either writing about it or drawing it yourself.

You can find some more ideas to boost brain power here.

The Bottom Line

Observational learning is a great option for learning many tangible skills and concepts. Whether you learn from a parent, friend, teacher, or mentor, you’ll be gaining knowledge that will serve you in the long run.

Try any of the above techniques in order to make the most of observational learning.

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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Published on April 12, 2021

How to Take Constructive Criticism Like a Champ

How to Take Constructive Criticism Like a Champ

Did somebody just say the words “constructive criticism”? Great, just what I need—someone to tell me how to do my job, like I don’t know how to flawlessly execute on my job. Well, maybe not flawlessly, but I think I know what I’m doing thank you very much.

This is how many people react when they hear the term constructive criticism. And it makes sense, as most of us don’t like to have someone telling us how we did something wrong or how we can do better. We like to feel like we are good at the things we choose to do unless, of course, we are trying something new. We take a certain amount of pride in how we do our various jobs and don’t like to have our shortcomings pointed out to us.

Before we get too worked up, let’s take a look at what constructive criticism is and how we can utilize it to help us improve at work or wherever we want to. we will learn that constructive criticism can be used to our advantage.

What Is Constructive Criticism?

First and foremost, it would be helpful to make sure we have a good understanding of what constructive criticism is.

When we hear the word “criticism,” our minds typically think negatively and hostile—like one person is standing over another person telling them that the way they are doing something is all wrong. And that is being critical.

However, this is not the intent of constructive criticism. Constructive criticism is a helpful way of providing feedback that provides specific and actionable suggestions. Instead of one person acting like a manager giving a team member general non-specific advice, constructive criticism is specific to the actions and situation. Given properly, it provides specific and clear recommendations on how to make changes and improvements that will lead to a more positive outcome in a given situation.

Accepting Constructive Criticism

As we just read, constructive criticism is provided to help someone improve in one manner or another. It’s not negative generalities or complaining, it’s specific actionable input provided with the intent of helping someone improve on something they’ve done so they get more desirable results the next time.

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This is exactly the context in which you should accept constructive criticism. It is meant to help you improve. Anyone who is interested in getting better and better at their job or craft should welcome it.

Think about a time when you got a big win at work or were part of a team that scored a big win. What an incredible feeling! Now, think about a time when a big project crashed and burned at work, or you didn’t land a huge new client, or your team played poorly and lost a big game—not a good feeling.

The way you handle these losses and learn from them to get better and score more “wins” is just like receiving constructive criticism. Learn from what went wrong to make things go right more often.

How to Handle Constructive Criticism

Now that we have a clear idea of what constructive criticism is, let’s look at the best ways to handle constructive criticism.

1. Stop Your Initial Reaction

When you see that some criticism is about to come your way, recognize it. Make yourself see what’s about to happen and tell yourself you will not react.

The key here is stopping any sort of reaction you are going to have when your brain realizes what’s about to happen. The challenge is that our first reaction is not generally a good one, and we don’t want to wear an initial expression that comes off as highly defensive or angry.

2. Don’t Take It Personally

I’m so happy I fully embrace and believe in the “don’t take anything personally” mentality. It’s important to remember that nobody is doing something to you specifically. They are sharing their personal experience and insights from what they’ve learned and seen. This does not make it universally right, it’s simply the way they’ve experienced it. And we all have different experiences that make each of our points of view unique. It’s not about you, it’s about the situation. Don’t take it personally.

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3. Remember the Benefit

This is a good thing to do when your first initial reaction of “no” comes into your mind. Receiving constructive criticism is a way to help yourself improve. Remember that you don’t have to digest and implement every single suggestion word for word. Take the parts that resonate with you and use them the next time a similar situation comes around. This is how we learn and grow.

4. Listen to Understand

Active listening

is very important here. Make sure that you are paying full attention to the speaker’s words and body language. You are attempting to understand completely so you are able to truly process the feedback and utilize it down the road. Keep your eyes and ears on the speaker and be present in the moment of receiving the feedback.

5. Be Thankful

It’s not easy to be thankful when someone is telling you how you could have done something better. This is where you put on your “big person pants” and tell them, “thank you for taking the time to share the feedback.”.

If you think about it, they most likely want the best for you. Why else would they be taking the time to share their insights and input with you? If they didn’t care or have a vested interest, why would they take the time? Exactly. Remember this when saying thank you.

6. Ask Questions to Understand Fully

This is where you want to ask clarifying questions to make sure you are fully understanding what the person is saying to you. Make sure you are on the same page as what they are telling you. If you don’t take the time to ask questions to clear up any confusion, then, in the long run, this feedback won’t be of much value to you.

Using Criticisms to Improve

Now, let’s take a look at how constructive criticism helps us improve, as we’ve read that reviewing when things don’t go right and analyzing why they didn’t go right help us figure out ways to change what we did to gain better results next time.

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1. Feedback Is Always Helpful

The first way you can use constructive criticism to improve is by acknowledging that feedback is always helpful. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all feedback is beneficial to you. It just means that it’s helpful.

You may disagree wholeheartedly on part of the feedback you receive, and that’s fine. The main thing to remember is that it’s always helpful. Gathering data, reviewing, and listening to others help you look at situations from an angle different than your own.

Speaking of which…

2. You Get Another Point of View

A great thing about listening to someone provide constructive criticism to you is that you get another point of view. Too many times we base what we think we should do on only our own perceptions of something. It’s very possible to be so close to something that you don’t truly see it in an objective light.

I know from back when I was an artist, I could get very locked into a certain project or painting. When I finally would take a break and ask someone else what they thought, many times they pointed out things I’d never noticed or thought of. The same concept applies here.

3. It Shows You Are Worth It

When someone takes the time to provide constructive criticism to you, it shows that they care and feel like you are worth it. They wouldn’t take the time if they didn’t think it would matter or that you weren’t worth it. This is something to think about the next time your manager wants to offer you some insight or advice.

4. It Helps You Improve

If you are willing to truly listen to constructive criticism, it can help you improve greatly. I think about a wide variety of times when I’ve gotten feedback and constructive criticism. I am known to invite it.

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I look at it like this—we are all on the same team (whether that’s an actual team or work team) and trying to work towards the same goal. What can I do better that can help us collectively win as a team? I like to think that I’m pretty good at what I do. I also know that I can always get better. Help me to help you, which helps us both.

5. It Can Inspire You

Finally, constructive criticism can inspire you. Sometimes, the person providing you feedback will make you see something you never saw about yourself. This is how another point of view can be so valuable. This can be incredibly eye-opening and sometimes be even one of those “Aha!” moments.

Summary

We’ve looked at what constructive criticism is and how to accept it. We’ve seen how if we allow ourselves to listen and accept the feedback, it can incredibly valuable to our growth and improvement. Constructive criticism can help us get better and better at what we do. Not any less important, we’ve discovered how to take constructive criticism like a champ.

Remember, getting feedback from others is critical to our growth in many areas of our life. Use constructive criticism to improve yourself.

More About Constructive Criticism

Featured photo credit: Mimi Thian via unsplash.com

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