Observational Learning: Definition, Theory & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Reinforcer: Definition & Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 What is Observational…
  • 1:22 Steps to Observational…
  • 4:11 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chris Clause
Observational learning goes on around us everyday. In this lesson, you will learn to identify the four steps in observational learning by examining a normal event. Test your understanding with the short quiz at the end.

What is Observational Learning?

Remember the first time you tried to make scrambled eggs for breakfast? Chances are you didn't get out a cookbook and follow step-by-step instructions. There's a good chance that you thought back to a time when you watched your mom make them and just followed what you remember her doing. So, how did you successfully cook scrambled eggs the first time you tried without a cookbook? The answer to that question is the focus of this lesson, a process called observational learning.

Observational learning has been a part of the human experience for a long time, but it wasn't until somewhat recently that psychologists began to examine this phenomenon closely in an effort to understand it better. Albert Bandura, a Canadian-born psychologist, gets credit for developing and popularizing Observational Learning Theory. Bandura did most of his work in the latter half of the 20th century. Bandura theorized that observational learning occurs in four distinct steps: attention, retention, motor reproduction and reinforcement. These four concepts used in sequence allow organisms to acquire the ability to engage in new, at times complex, behaviors simply through observation.

Steps to Observational Learning

Attention is first up in the process of understanding observational learning. Let's apply the scrambled eggs example to illustrate the process. If you ever want to cook eggs on your own, you must be able to first observe someone else engaging in the activity while actively bringing the information into your brain through your senses. If you don't watch intently as your mom cracks the eggs, scrambles them in a bowl and cooks them in a pan, then how can your brain even begin to truly learn the process? Attention is critical to making sure that you catch all of the important details.

So, you've paid close attention to how your mom prepares and cooks scrambled eggs, but now it's your turn, and you've got to remember how to do it. Retention is the process of taking the information in through your senses and committing it to memory. You have to remember the steps in order to replicate them later. Cooking scrambled eggs is a pretty simple process involving only a few steps, so remembering the steps is not that challenging for the average person. More advanced and complex patterns of behavior require more advanced strategies to make sure the information observed is committed to memory and able to be accessed when needed later. Regardless of the level of complexity of the observed behavior you are trying to learn, remembering what you observed is critical.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account