What about the role that other people can have on learning? To answer this question, you need to know about social learning. Social learning is a way to bridge the gap between associative and cognitive learning models. Social learning discusses how external people influence an individual’s internal processes.
This tutorial will be about observational learning, which is learning by watching others’ actions and the consequences of their actions, as well as imitating those actions later and showing that you did learn from that person and what they did.
EXAMPLEImagine a classroom full of young students taking a test. During the test, one student starts talking. The teacher comes over and gives this student a tap with a ruler. All of the other students within the classroom don't need to receive a similar smack by the teacher to understand that they shouldn't talk. They learn by observing the student and the consequences of that student's actions to know that they shouldn't talk during a test.
So, what is the actual process of learning through observation? There are a few key elements.
The most important element of the observational learning process is a model. This model will provide an example of behavior, which the person will then observe.
EXAMPLEIn the example of the test, the model is the student who speaks up during the test.
Models can come in many forms:
EXAMPLEIf you are given an Olympic swimmer as a model for learning to swim, you are less likely to see that Olympian as being a model that's related to you, because you’re likely not athletic to that degree of training. Therefore, this Olympian might not be as effective a model as someone more similar to you.
There are four main elements that make an effective model:
1. Attention. You need to pay attention to the model. This means that you need to actually watch. If the model is interesting, you’re more likely to actually see and remember what they're doing.
EXAMPLEWhen a teacher is a model, sometimes they can be a little boring and so we don't learn as much from them.
2. Remembering. You need to be able to remember. This means that you need to be able to store the information in your memory so that you can use it later, because a person doesn't necessarily have to perform the action immediately after they see their model in order to actually have learned it. This is what we refer to as latent learning.
EXAMPLEYou might learn how to do a math problem during class, but you won't display that knowledge until the teacher calls on you and offers you a reward or a good grade to actually do the math problem. You don't have to automatically perform actions in response to say that you've learned them.
3. Reproduction. You need to be able to reproduce the action. This means that you need to perform the action at some time to show that you have actually learned it. This is what we refer to as imitation of the model.
Imitation means that you perform an action in a similar way to what you observed within the model themselves. You’re trying to approximate exactly what the model did to show that you know how to do it and can receive the same consequences.
4. Motivation. You need to want to perform the action. You might remember what you learned and be able to reproduce it later, but the reason why you reproduce it is that you’re motivated to do so.
This relates to the reward and punishment idea, which can encourage the performance of a behavior. Indeed, reward and punishment of the model themselves can affect our motivation as well.
EXAMPLEIn the previous example about the test, the student was reprimanded when he or she talked during the test. So the other students are less likely to perform the action of talking during a test, because they saw the consequences of the model's behavior.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Erick Taggart.