The modeling technique, what does it consist of?

Abraham McLaughlin
The modeling technique, what does it consist of?

Have you ever heard the expression "of such a stick, such a splinter"? Or, "Children are the reflection of their parents"? These popular sayings are based on something much studied in behavioral psychology: learning by modeling or observation. This type of learning influences us from birth and forms the basis of social learning that explains why children do what they see and not what they are told to do.


  • What is modeling learning?
  • What is modeling learning about?
  • Stages of learning by modeling
  • Modeling learning today
    • Links of interest

What is modeling learning?

Modeling, also called imitation learning or vicarious learning, is a form of social learning that occurs when we observe the behavior of others. It is the teaching that we transmit to a young child when we perform certain behaviors that can later be imitated by him or the way in which we learn a new skill, such as playing the guitar, based on seeing experts doing it in YouTube tutorials.

This type of learning is part of the bases of behaviorist theories about social learning and was identified by Albert Bandura in 1961. This research psychologist echoed the importance that context had for individuals and how the environment could shape our life. behavior, both positively and negatively. Among some of his experiments, Bandura demonstrated how children could learn to imitate facial expressions, which is part of observational learning.

What is modeling learning about?

In learning by observation or modeling, the subject does not need the acquisition of direct personal reinforcement, as in other types of learning treated in behaviorism, but it is necessary that the figure to be imitated has a determined influence on the person. In the case of a child, someone important such as a parent, an older brother or their teachers, will be the role models or key people for the child's modeling.

In addition, if the child verifies that the subject to be imitated has obtained a reward or a punishment, he will tend to repeat the behavior depending on its consequences: if a child sees how his older brother says an expletive and everyone laughs, it is more likely That the child repeats this behavior when observing the positive consequences or, if an adult verifies how several acquaintances have committed a crime, going unpunished and getting a lot of money, they will be more likely to imitate this action than if they had been punished.

Stages of learning by modeling

According to Bandura, there are four different stages in modeling or imitation learning processing.

  • Attention: It is the key part of the learning process and constitutes the measure and form in which people are exposed to the behavior to be imitated. The actions or behaviors must produce a certain excitement and expectations in the observers so that their attention is captured and the behavior of the observers is influenced..
  • Retention: It is the part of the process related to memory. In order to subsequently imitate the behaviors, the observers must have the ability to retain in their memory the actions that have captured their attention. Without good storage processing, behaviors will not be learned.
  • Reproduction: This is the phase in which the learned behavior is reproduced. For it to be carried out we must have the physical and psychological capacities to do so. For example, we can see a great singer sing a melody in a prodigious way, but, although this has captured our attention and has been retained in our memory, it may be difficult for us to reproduce this action if we do not have the vocal capacities of the artist.
  • Motivation: In this phase of the modeling processing, if the consequences of the environment are taken into account in the face of the new emitted behavior. If the behavior has been followed by a negative consequence, the person will probably not continue to take these actions. If, on the other hand, the rewards exceed the cost of carrying out the action, the behavior will be established little by little and will be subsequently repeated..

Modeling learning today

Modeling learning is one of the most used when teaching new behaviors, especially to children, since it is usually very effective. In addition, it includes the different cognitive processes described above, so the role that these had in this type of learning caused Bandura to change the name of his Social Learning Theory in 1986 to the Theory of Social Cognition..

Some criticisms that this theory receives are based on taking into account only environmental processes to explain behavior, since, although these influence unquestionably, some personal characteristics must also take into account certain genetic differences. Despite this debate, learning by modeling, as well as many of the theories of social learning and conditioning, continues to flourish due to its great efficiency. If you want to learn more about these learning processes and how to use them, do not hesitate to consult an educational psychology professional..

Links of interest

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