Learning through Modeling and Observation

Learning through Modeling and Observation

Have you ever followed and successfully replicated a recipe just by watching it on YouTube? Or have you enrolled your children in online dance or sports classes during this pandemic? All of these examples relate to what is called modeling as a learning and instructional strategy.

Modeling, also known as social learning theory or observational learning, was introduced by Albert Bandura. His theory became widely known when he said that most human behavior is learned through observing and copying others (Kurt, 2020). Modeling tells us that new knowledge, skills and behavior can be learned through observation instead of direct experiences and trial-and-error. An example of this can be taken from a daily task: brushing our teeth. We most probably did not learn how to brush our teeth through trial-and-error. We learned how to brush our teeth through our parents or siblings, who showed us how to use a toothbrush. Through modeling, we are able to see not only how the modeled activity works; we can also come up with our own unique way of doing said activity (Salisu et al., 2014). Another example of modeling that is seen in daily life (and many of us may have already experienced) can be found in the educational setting. Remember back in elementary or high school when we rehearsed a dance together with our classmates for a project or school activity? During our rehearsals, we practiced modeling by imitating and copying the movements of every step that our leader or teacher would show us! 

Interestingly, modeling also has an influence in unlocking certain behaviors.  From Bandura’s various studies, it is found that behavior change can and does occur through observation and repetition (Fryling et al., 2011). Did you notice how children pick-up grownups’ habits even when they are unintentionally shown? Or have you noticed that your child might have the same mannerisms as you? These were most likely learned through modeling. 

Modeling plays a key role in various skills throughout one’s life as it provides useful and accurate representations and demonstrations for a certain piece of knowledge. For our children, some developmental milestones are even targeted towards their observational learning, such as babies copying the expressions of the person in front of them. From the simplest act of learning how to use our eating utensils, to learning how to write, all the way up to learning how to drive a car when we are older, modeling plays a vital role in acquiring these sets of life skills. We will talk more about Modeling in Parenthood on our next blog post, so stay tuned for our next brain snack!


Kurt, S. “Social Learning Theory: Albert Bandura,” in Educational Technology, December 26, 2019. Educational Technology. https://educationaltechnology.net/social-learning-theory-albert-bandura/

Fryling, M. J., Johnston, C., & Hayes, L. J. (2011). Understanding observational learning: an interbehavioral approach. The Analysis of verbal behavior, 27(1), 191–203. 

Salisu, A. & Ransom, E. (2014). The role of modeling towards impacting quality education. International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences. 32, 54-61.