What is observational learning? characteristics and examples

What is observational learning
Written by

Have you ever wondered how we humans learn? Or maybe how animals learn?

These questions can be answered by observational learning and you are probably now wondering what is observational learning.

Here you can get all the related information.

Everything you need to know about observational learning, characteristics and example, will help you to understand the origin of the way in which children usually learn between the stage of 0 to 5 years, as well as in the rest of their growth.

What is observational learning?

To give the most accurate definition possible of observational learning, it is necessary to understand that over time there have been different authors who have helped to describe the process that makes observational learning possible.

According to Albert Bandura social learning theory, observational learning can be confused with what is known as social learning, but it turns out to have slight differences when the process is applied.

So what is observational learning?

This type of learning occurs or results from all observational behavior to other living beings, without the need to obtain reinforcement in return.

Yes, the definition of observational learning is as simple as that, observe others to learn new things, but the interesting part begins when we go into the different stages it has.

Stages of observational learning

The author of observational learning, in his theory, proposed 4 stages through which the living being that seeks to obtain learning through observation must pass, these 4 phases must be present in the process in a mandatory way, otherwise, observational learning does not occur.


The subject who is observing a behavior, must put into practice different resources of attention, which will allow him to perceive and have a better understanding of the events that are happening.


This is the stage of observational learning where it is important to memorize the behavior being observed. It is usually necessary to obtain extra perception such as verbal, to aid retention of processes with greater difficulty.


Practice makes perfect, in the reproduction stage, the subject observing the behavior and memorizing the situation, must repeat it as many times as necessary until obtaining approval or positive feedback from others.


Having learned a behavior correctly is not enough for those who use observational learning, since they need the hope of reinforcement to perform the learned behavior. Only at this stage is a reinforcer necessary.

The conclusion of observational learning is that it is a 4-stage process that can be performed by any living being and will only be performed when it has a reinforcer.

Characteristics of observational learning

Although the characteristics of observational learning may be evident by now, it is important to emphasize them in order to differentiate this process from any other way of acquiring knowledge.

Observational learning as a way to acquire knowledge possesses the following characteristics:

As every learning acquisition process has its advantages and disadvantages, it is important to understand that observational learning can also have flaws. One of the disadvantages of observational learning is that anyone can be a model.

That is, children can learn both good and bad, therefore, it is important as parents, guardians, friends and relatives, to be aware and observe what behaviors are performed in front of children.

In addition to this, it is important to know all the advantages and disadvantages of observational learning through any behavioral psychology book or PDF files on observational learning.

Observational learning examples

Having clear what observational learning is and how the process is performed, we must complete the information with examples of observational learning and better understand how children and any living being makes associations.

The basic example of observational learning is with children between 3 and 5 years old where their parents are a role model and they imitate and repeat most behaviors.

For example:

An observational learning takes place by seeing a behavior that is constantly repeated, is associated with a situation and is reproduced during a similar or same context. Normally, similar contexts are the triggers for behaviors learned through observational learning.

Bobo doll experiment

Bobo doll experiment is a famous experiment conducted in 1961 by psychologist Albert Bandura.

It is considered to be a landmark experiment in the field of social learning and observational learning.

The aim of the experiment was to test whether children may learn aggressive violent behavior through observation.

In the experiment, children observed a model adult act aggressively towards a Bobo doll, and then they were allowed to play with the same Bobo doll.

The results showed that children who saw the adult model act aggressively towards the Bobo doll were more likely for imitation of this behavior when playing with the doll themselves.

This demonstrated that children can learn aggressive behavior from observing others, a phenomenon known as observational learning or social learning.

If you have children at home or around you, put observational learning into practice if you want them to adopt a new behavior quickly and without the need for reinforcement. Remember that all observed behavior, with or without awareness, can be learned and repeated.

More about Professional Career

Affiliate Disclosure: Some links of products or services will send you to partner websites where we might get a commission by recommending their product & service. 

Table of Contents