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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)
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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

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Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done

How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done
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Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

How Serious Is Information Overload?

The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem.

This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

When we see some half-baked blog posts we don’t even consider reading, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it.

We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on.

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The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control.

Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it.

But first, admit that information overload is really bad for you.

Why Information Overload Is Bad for You

Information overload stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here.

When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

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You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work or enjoy your passion.

How to Stop Information Overload (And Start to Achieve More)

So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with setting goals.

1. Set Your Goals

If you don’t have your goals put in place, you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

2. Know What to Skip When Facing New Information

Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks, you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans, then skip it. You don’t need it.

If it does, then ask yourself these questions:

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  • Will you be able to put this information into action immediately?
  • Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks?
  • Is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away?

If the information is not actionable in a day or two, then skip it.

(You’ll forget about it anyway.) And that’s basically it.

Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant.

Self-control comes handy too. It’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future, then SKIP IT.

3. Be Aware of the Minimal Effective Dose

There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour BodyTim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs.

Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose, no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life.

Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

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4. Don’t Procrastinate by Consuming More Information

Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article, we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

The focus of this article is not on how to stop procrastinating, but if you’re having such issue, I recommend you read this: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

Summing It Up

As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance.

I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over.

I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

More Resources About Boosting Brain Power

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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