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Observational Learning

Observational learning is a powerful means of social learning. It principally occurs through the cognitive processing of information displayed by models. The information can be conveyed verbally, textually, and auditorially, and through actions either by live or symbolic models such as television, movies, and the Internet. Regardless of the medium used to present the modeled activities, the same psychological processes underlie observational learning. These include attention and memory processes directed to establish a conceptual representation of the modeled activity. This representation guides the enactment of observationally learned patterns of conduct. Whether the learned patterns will be performed or not depends on incentive structures and observers' actual and perceived competence to enact the modeled performances. Unlike learning by doing, observational learning does not require enactment of the modeling activities during learning. The complexity of the learning, however, is restricted by the cognitive competence and enactment skills of the learner.


Bandura, Albert. Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986.

Schunk, Dale H. "Peer Modeling." In Keith Topping and Stewart Ehly eds., Peer-Assisted Learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1998.

Kay Bussey



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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 6