Applications of Observational Learning
Watch any child and you will see observational learning taking place. Children begin to learn through observation at a very young age. Infants have been shown to imitate the actions of others as early as twenty-one days after birth! Because they are most often around their parents and siblings, children are most likely going to model those family members’ behavior. As they grow older, they will also begin to model the behavior of their peers and even the behavior of characters in movies and on television. They will carefully watch the actions of others and the consequences of those actions. If they like what they see and view a potential reward for a particular behavior, they will likely model that behavior, or one that is very similar. For instance, a child watching his father have fun playing basketball in the driveway will likely try to play basketball, too. Of course, modeling behavior doesn't always produce positive results. A child who watches a classmate bully another child into giving up a toy may mimic that behavior because a toy is the reward.
Adults also learn through observation. A med student learns procedures and bedside manner through observing other doctors on rotation in hospitals. An adult may learn how to climb the corporate ladder by watching and learning from the behavior and consequences of her superior. Think of your daily activities and those people you watch and learn from. You may be surprised to find that you participate in observational learning a lot more often than you may think.
Observational learning has also been utilized on a much larger scale to help promote healthy behaviors and inspire social change. For example, there have been a number of serialized television dramas used in a number of countries including India, Kenya, and China designed to encourage audience members to engage in environmentally friendly behaviors, use safe sex, and encourage financial independence among women.