4 Ways to Use Observational Learning for E-Learning

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Knowledge and skills like how to complete a process or accomplish tangible tasks can be learnt by experimentation or reading. However, soft skills may not be so easy to teach. Vicarious or observational learning is learning by watching, since certain behaviors or skills simply cannot be learnt by attending a lecture about them or reading an e-learning module. The underlying principles behind observational learning are:

  • The highest level of observational learning is achieved by first organizing and rehearsing the modeled behavior symbolically and then enacting it overtly. Coding modeled behavior into words, labels or images results in better retention than simply observing.
  • Individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior if it results in outcomes they value.
  • Individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior if the model is similar to the observer and has admired status and the behavior has functional value.

Here are a couple of instances of how you can merge vicarious learning design with your existing training or e-learning strategy:


Real world scenarios

The best observational learning takes place when learners are exposed to real world situations, wherein they can see other similar employees exhibit the intended behavior, observe positive outcomes and possibly raise questions. A good way to do this may be by coupling vicarious learning with on-the-job training by pairing new hires with existing employees. For example, a new hire being paired with an existing customer service executive can observe the process to follow, her polite behavior and tone of voice, how to handle an agitated customer, etc.

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Often it is not possible to let trainees observe an actual situation, for example a real price negotiation deal or a doctor-patient interview. In such a case, recorded videos can be shown to learners so that they can understand the finer nuances for learning the new behavior.


Animations do the same as videos except that you’ll have to put in a lot of technical and design expertise to make sure the animated characters reflect the same kind of facial expressions, hand gestures and body language as a real person would. Otherwise, learners may not be able to connect with them. As per principle 3 above, the intended learning may not take place.


Podcasts are effective when emphasis has to be laid on verbal skills such as English pronunciations or accent, tone and modulation of voice, or while teaching a new language. While recording a podcast, make sure the speaker you choose has a clear voice and a medium speaking speed. There should be no background noise at all so that listeners can achieve maximum concentration.

Have you seen observational learning being used in the workplace? Let us know how.

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