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What Is Observational Learning in Higher Education?

What Is Observational Learning in Higher Education?

The majority of initial learning experiences occur through observation. We make sense of the world by observing friends, family members, and the surrounding environment. It is not uncommon for people to represent learning as an act that takes place through the use of books and lectures. This is known as the traditional learning model, which requires students to read specific information. One change is to focus more on observational learning, a form of social learning that does not necessarily require any kind of reinforcement. As the name suggests, observational learning is learning that takes place when students notice a pattern. Students learn by observing the behaviour of others.


Observational learning, also called social learning theory, occurs when an observer’s behaviour changes after watching a model’s behaviour. The observer’s behaviour can be influenced by positive or negative consequences of the model’s behaviour (called vicarious reinforcement or vicarious punishment).

Canadian American psychologist Albert Bandura was one of the first psychologists to identify the phenomenon of observational learning.

According to Bandura’s research, there are four processes that influence observational learning:


To learn, the observer must be aware of something about the environment. They have to pay attention to patterns and behaviours. Levels of attention may vary depending on the characteristics of the model and the environment, including the similarity of the models or the current mood of the observer.


Paying attention is not enough to learn new behaviours. The observer must also retain or remember the behaviour for later. To increase the chances of retention, the observer must organize the information in a format that is easy to remember. The behaviour must be easy to remember so that the action can be performed with minimal effort.


Replication/ Re-enactment is the process by which the observer must be able to actually perform the behaviour in the real world. To acquire a skill, it often takes hours of practice to generate a new behaviour.


All learning requires a certain level of personal motivation. For observational learning, the observer must be stimulated to produce the desired behaviour. Sometimes this impulse is inherent in the observer. Other times, motivation can take the form of external reinforcement: rewards and punishments.

The Social Model

Social models tend to be robust guides when they are of higher status, such as a teacher or a parent, and this influence is powerful among young people. Children can especially benefit from having strong role models in the society to serve as role models.

The importance of social models is central to observational learning. Observational learning is so powerful that researchers realize that the random behaviours they display are sometimes picked up by students and sometimes used in very different contexts.

Observational Learning in Higher Education

Observational learning is an essential area in the field of psychology and behavior science in higher education. While it may be possible to describe how a science experiment proceeds, replicating the experiment itself can be much more difficult. Guidance is important, it would be important for a science instructor to take their students through the experiment step by step. Educators can also support students in the classroom by matching more advanced learners with those struggling with experiments. Peers help model experiments for slow learners by guiding them step by step.

In light of the fact that the degree to which a learner observes and retains information has much to do with how much they identify with the instructor, peer learning becomes of particular significance. The student might have trouble identifying with his or her instructor, but the student may find it much easier to identify with his or her peers. Pairing students up with each other may be beneficial for tasks that can be observed and modelled. As a result, this can increase the likelihood that learners will pay attention during the task and retain it. Also, students can be motivated by observing their classmates.

Almost everyone’s behaviour is influenced by social influence and pressure, students may want to perform well on a task because of the influence of their social peers, which motivates them to pay more attention when the behaviour is being modelled. As a result, they are more likely to observe, retain, and be motivated to repeat this task.