New Manager Training

Observational learning, a concept championed by renowned psychologist Albert Bandura, is a dynamic process through which individuals acquire new knowledge and skills by observing and imitating others. It’s a popular method arguing that learning can happen beyond traditional classroom settings by tapping into the natural human inclination to learn from the behaviors and experiences of those around us.

When it comes to learning at work, this is no exception. Let’s explore the intricacies of observational learning, its underlying mechanisms, and how organizations and individuals can harness its power for personal and professional growth.

What is Observational Learning

Observational learning, often referred to as modeling or social learning, involves acquiring knowledge and skills by observing others and emulating their behavior. Albert Bandura’s famous Bobo doll experiment demonstrated that individuals, especially children, can learn aggressive behaviors by watching others. In our everyday experiences, we are constantly being exposed to “modeling’ – and no, not the kind that walks the runway necessarily.

Moreover, we are continually exposed to different people’s behaviors and responses, which have an inherent effect on the way we see and interact with the world. Simply, the concept of observational learning extends to various aspects of life and can encompass both positive and negative behaviors.

When studying observational learning it’s important to understand the four main mechanisms that drive this type of learning, plus a bonus way of encouraging the repetition of desired behaviors. Let’s take a look.

Mechanisms of Observational Learning:

  1. Attention: The first step in observational learning is paying attention to the model’s behavior. Here, the learners focus on the relevant cues and actions displayed by the model being observed.
  2. Retention: After observing the behavior, learners must retain the information in their memory. This involves encoding the observed actions for later recall.
  3. Reproduction: At this stage, learners attempt to reproduce the observed behavior, translating their mental representation into actual actions.
  4. Motivation: The likelihood of imitating a behavior is influenced by the consequences the model faces. Positive outcomes, such as rewards, increase motivation, while negative outcomes may discourage imitation.

Bonus – Reinforcement: Finally, reinforcement plays a crucial role in observational learning. If the learner receives positive reinforcement for their imitation, the behavior is more likely to be repeated. This is different from motivation because it occurs outside of the consequences of the exact action.

Consider this scenario:

Imagine a new hire successfully emulates a desired behavior. The immediate consequence might involve receiving verbal praise and permission to progress to the next phase of their training. On the other hand, reinforcement could take the form of an incentive for accomplishing all training tasks within their first week. This could be a tangible reward, such as a $5 gift card to a local coffee shop or an additional hour of paid time off (PTO). This added reinforcement serves as a powerful acknowledgment, signaling to the learner that their dedication and attentiveness in training are not only recognized but also encouraged for future learning endeavors.

Observational Learning in the Workplace

When considering applying observational learning to workplace and employee training, it’s clear that this is a powerful tool for professional development.

It encourages communication, collaboration, and teamwork – all things that help shape a truly healthy workplace culture.

Beyond promoting a positive workplace culture, organizations can leverage observational learning to foster skill development and knowledge transfer.

Here are some observational learning examples for the workplace:

  1. Mentorship Programs: Pairing experienced employees with those seeking to learn creates a structured environment for observational learning. The mentee can observe and emulate the mentor’s skills and behaviors.
  2. Collaborative Work Environments: Encouraging teamwork and collaboration provides ample opportunities for employees to observe and learn from each other. This can lead to the development of a diverse skill set within the organization.
  3. Role Modeling: Leaders and managers should be mindful of their actions as they serve as role models for their teams. Positive leadership behaviors will likely be observed and replicated by others.
  4. Skill Demonstration: Organize workshops or training sessions where skilled employees demonstrate their expertise. This hands-on approach allows others to observe and learn through direct experience.

Enhancing Your Training Programs with Vetted Learning Theories

Observational learning is a powerful and natural method of acquiring knowledge and skills that has been shown to successfully help people learn and develop new skills.

When incorporated into training programs, it can bolster retention, and provide an engaging experience that keeps learners interested in the material. By understanding its mechanisms and incorporating intentional strategies into learning programs, individuals and organizations can unlock the potential of observational learning for continuous growth and development. From the workplace to everyday life, embracing the art of observation can lead to a more knowledgeable, skilled, and collaborative community.

Interested in more educational training tips for your learning programs? Consider implementing additional learning theories such as blended learning techniques and adult learning theory into your programs with our posts on Putting Blended Learning to Work and Using Adult Learning Theory to Upskill Your Workforce.

You can also discover more insights on Today’s Best Methods for Employee Training Effectiveness and Results in our post, or check out this podcast on learner preferences at work!

If you’re looking to develop highly impactful learning programs that leave learners hungry for more, speak with a BizLibrary representative today to learn how you can transform learning at work with the right tools, content, and partnership.

Chat with us to learn how we help orgs build successful employee training programs!

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