Learning begins to take place much before going to school. Human beings are social animals who learn from their environment and the people around them. Observation is the key to learning among children. It is amusing and endearing to see infants as young as three months old imitate the mouth movements of the elders around them.
Learning from books and materials is the traditional form of gaining knowledge in schools and colleges. The learning model continues to evolve and advance to ensure the best teaching for students of all ages. Observational study is one such method of acquiring knowledge implemented to maximize social learning.
What is observational learning?
Observational learning, as its name describes, is a process in which a person learns by getting influenced by their surroundings and the people around them. For instance, a child whose parents smoke or drink too often adopts the habit. On the other hand, a child with patient and tranquil parents is most often calm with people.
In this process of gaining education, students learn by watching, memorising, and mimicking the behaviour of their elders. The observational study, as one must have noticed, is more common among young children.
Observational learning can be both intentional and unintentional. At times, students intentionally observe their role models' habits and traits to acquire and adopt their ways and gain new information. Nevertheless, there are also times when observational learning takes place unintentionally as in the case of youngsters.
What is a social model?
Throughout observational study, a social model plays a pivotal role. A social model is a person from whom the learner learns. For example, for a child who learns to wash their hands repeatedly, a mother suffering from OCD is a social model.
Four Processes of Observational Study Design
Albert Bandura was the first American psychologist who recognised the phenomenon of observational learning. According to him, the observational study design consists of four important processes: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.
No one better than a teacher knows that the level of attention and focus that any student pays impacts how much information they retain. Attention is the primary stage of observational study. In this stage, the students are required to pay attention to their social models to gain information. The better the attention, the better they are at observational learning.
The level of observation can vary depending on certain parameters, like the observer’s liking for the model and the mood for learning. The learners tend to pay greater attention to models who are more reputed, have a higher status, and are similar to them.
For instance, a student who wishes to top the class will observe the behaviour of the present toppers and try imitating them.
Learning is not completely beneficial without proper retention. The second stage of the observational study design depends upon how much information provided during the observational study an observer can retain, which also depends on the likeability of the model.
Attention and retention are closely entwined with each other. The better the attention of the learner would have been, the better their retention would be. However, teachers can help students improve their retention ability by imparting education in a more organised and structured manner that is easy to retain.
For example, it is often said that making organised and structured notes can help retain the information provided. Furthermore, using mnemonic practices is also useful for retention.
All learning is a waste if one cannot implement it and make advancements in real life. The third stage of the observational study involves the reproduction of the lessons learnt and retained in the previous two steps. In this step, one must demonstrate that they can apply the habits learned in their day-to-day lives.
Although it sounds easy, it is not so. It is not simple to learn and adopt the habits of a model and start behaving in the same way from the next day onwards. It requires a lot of learning and craft to master the behaviour before being able to incorporate it into your lifestyle.
For example, for a student to incorporate the skills of a topper student into his lifestyle, it is important for him first to pay attention to his model’s habits. Next, he needs to retain the information that he has learned, and finally, he needs to slowly apply those skills to his schedule to master this third stage of observational study design.
Teachers understand the indispensability of motivation among students for learning. The learner should be motivated to study the model. When motivated, the intensity of all the three processes mentioned above substantially increases. A motivated observer will pay better attention, retain more information, and be much better at reproducing the information.
Although motivation among observers is most often natural, it can also be generated by rewarding and recognising the efforts of the students.
For example, a student who wants to be a topper in the class will be motivated to learn from the present topper to reproduce that information in his lifestyle. On the other hand, teachers or even parents might reward students for improving their motivation for observational learning.
Learning is an ongoing process. It occurs even when one does not have an intention to learn. As teachers, it is crucial to maintain calm and patient behaviour with positive attributes in front of your students to ensure that they adopt the best traits from you. Teaching is a profession that drastically impacts the students both directly and indirectly. Consequently, it is fundamental to consciously incorporate habits that may positively impact your students and avoid the negative ones.