Barlow's etiological model

Whether we like it or not, others have an impact on us, just as we have an impact on them. Our social interactions determine the acquisition of new behaviors, skills, or abilities. We are endowed with an ability to observe, analyze, interpret and imitate the behaviors of others that seem favorable to us. This is where vicarious learning comes in.

1. What is vicarious learning?


Vicarious learning is imitating a behavior as a result of observing the behavior of our peers.

We consider the results of certain actions performed, and see their success there because of the behaviors highlighted. So they seem to be, in our eyes, consciously or unconsciously,necessary to imitate. And we adhere to them because they offer results that match our expectations or values (such as leadership for example). In this way, we avoid accumulating trial and error, which others may have done before us.

2. What definition for vicarious learning?

Vicarious learning can also be called “modeling.” In effect, we imitate behaviors that we have observed in people who are considered models in a domain. 

Observation is therefore not passive, unlike mimicry. In an active way, the observation passes by several dimensions: attention, memorization, reproduction and motivation. 

In this type of learning, the observed behaviors have been proven successful, and we want to apply the same ones to achieve the same successes.

3. Which theoretical current?

Vicarious learning was born according to the social learning theories, in 1986, by Albert Bandura. With a cognitive-behavioral orientation, Bandura realizes that we cannot live without considering the surroundings, be it, our family, our culture etc. We always live with, and whether we want to or not, learn from them. 

Social learning theories then view human actions as resulting from three factors: cognitions, behaviors, and the environmental context.


4. What room is there for our own experience?

Just because we learn by imitation does not mean that our own experience is to be overlooked in this type of learning. Indeed, based on our own experience, we adjust our behaviors constantly according to what we may have experienced. Some of which may have been failures, we try to analyze the successful experiences of others in those that put us in trouble. 

This is considered the symbolization of our experience. In this way we learn to communicate better, to better anticipate possible difficulties, to better imagine the future and our own actions. Vicarious learning, therefore, is not mimicry since it ultimately considers the interpretation we make of the outcome of the other’s behavior.

5. Vicarious learning in education

We have been living vicarious learning since birth. Indeed, we imitate the behaviors and actions of our parents. Indeed, this learning brings several benefits to the child, adolescent or adult. 

At first, he can grasp new behaviors that he had not yet acquired. He will be able to observe, practice and own it in his own way.

In a second step, he will be able to suppress certain behaviors that appear to be dysfunctional. Indeed, if he sees that a more accurate reaction to a situation allows the person to grow more, he will try to acquire the same. 

Finally, this type of learning helps to decrease anxiety or phobias. We observe our loved ones facing situations that are anxiety-provoking, but their behavior seems quite appropriate and fearless. We will then mimic those same behaviors and decrease our own anxiety.

6. Learning is all around us

Vicarious learning is not limited to imitating the behaviors of our family members. It goes far beyond that. It comes from our culture (our peers, sharing the same value, ideology, religion…), from books, from the media (TV shows, radio), from influential people (president, Nobel prize winners etc.), from our peers, from our school (teachers, educators…).

School is a great source of vicarious learning. This is because the teacher talks about his or her experience, shows exercises and methods of success, and the student will simply apply it to succeed in a similar exercise. 

Imitation of a behavior can occur in any context. The closer the person is to the source of influence, the more quickly the behavior will be accepted. Nevertheless, even if he or she does not know it personally, a person may consider a distant model. 

Therefore, like any type of learning, this one can be toxic depending on our sources of inspiration. Malicious people, can use the vulnerability of some others to make them adhere to the adoption of behaviors that will be deemed successful.

7. Use this learning as a driver

Now that you are fully aware that the behaviors of others influence you, grasp it. Observe the behaviors of people you consider successful, analyze and interpret that success. Ask yourself what might fit you, and what you will manage to put in place, to be able to achieve your goals. This is not about “copying” your peers, or losing who you are to become who they are. This is about appropriating behaviors that might be useful to you, and grabbing them based on your own personality and experience.

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