Benefits of Observational Learning

Decorative: "Learning through observation" diagram with the related benefits highlighted: attention, motivation, retention, and motor reproduction


1. "Learning to be Creative: The Effects of Observational Learning on Students' Design Products and Processes" (article) points out that "observing is an effective learning activity in various domains" and studied whether "observational learning [on video --- (with) peers doing design tasks while concurrently thinking aloud] also be beneficial in enhancing creativity in art and design education."

The results were clear:

  • "[O]bservation had beneficial effects on creativity in the design products compared to the direct strategy instruction for high aptitude students, but not for low aptitude students."
  • "Students who observed generally brainstormed more and reported a more process-oriented approach."
  • "[E]valuation and elaboration [after observation] are essential for the effectiveness of learning by observing."

2. "Observational Learning through Video Peer Modeling to Increase Self-Efficacy: A Postsecondary Remediation Strategy" (thesis) noted similar effects in mathematics.

  • "[O]bservational learning, experienced through video peer modeling, ... enhance[s] self-efficacy in underprepared college students."

3. Practical Takeaways

Video libraries of students (or instructors) working problem sets, walking and talking through creative processes, etc. could be a worthwhile addition to departments and/or individual instructors as students would be able to preview and review the required processes as many times as necessary to acquire familiarity and competency.

a. Some video options could include the following:

  • Videos of volunteers working problems in class
  • Whiteboard instructor videos of a student or instructor illustrating the process
  • Instructor-focused videos unpacking the necessary process with various problem sets or a variety of sample texts
  • Videos available on YouTube or other open sites
  • Khan Academy or other professionally developed instructional videos 

b. Some display options could include the following:

  • Embedding the videos in the course D2L site
  • Compiling and making available to students a video library of links
  • Linking to videos directly
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