Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Effects of Peer Monitoring Training on the Emergence of the Capability to Learn from Observing Instruction Received by Peers

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Effects of Peer Monitoring Training on the Emergence of the Capability to Learn from Observing Instruction Received by Peers

Article excerpt

There is no doubt that much of what typically developing children learn occurs via observation, especially in classroom settings, where children must learn from the instruction received by others. In fact, observational learning (OL) appears to be one of the leading indicators of success in educational settings (Greer, 2002; Greer, Singer-Dudek, & Gautreaux, 2006). Research shows that students with disabilities (e.g., autism, developmental disabilities), as well as students who have language deficits as a result of the lack of opportunities to acquire vocabulary in impoverished environments (Hart & Risley, 1995), are less likely to learn from observing others receive instruction (Gautreaux, 2005; Reilly-Lawson & Trapenberg, 2007). Although there has been a great deal of research on OL as an independent variable, recently investigators have begun to identify factors that lead to the emergence of OL where OL is a dependent variable. In these studies, OL is used as a dependent variable for interventions that lead to OL in students who were missing the capability (Greer et al., 2006).

Catania (1998) defined OL as "learning based on observing the responding of another organism (and/or its consequences)" (p. 227). It is distinguished from modeling (Zentall, 1996) and imitation (Baer, Peterson, & Sherman, 1963; Baer & Sherman, 1964; Epstein, 1984). When students engage in one type of OL, they learn from indirect contact with consequences experienced by others. This is demonstrated in the following example: A child, who cannot add, observes another child receive instructional presentations and consequences, and learns to add without direct instruction. The capability to learn from observation is necessary in most classrooms, in that teachers frequently directly instruct only one student and the remaining students in the classroom must observe that one student's response and the teacher's consequences for that student surrounding that response. In the aforementioned example, the teacher's consequence may be a correction ("The answer is five") or an affirmative response that functions as positive reinforcement for the student ("Good job, the answer is five"). Although the remaining students in the classroom did not have direct contact with the teacher, they observed the contingencies involved between the student and teacher interaction and had to learn from that experience.

One possible explanation for the lack of research on interventions to induce OL for students who do not have that capability is that the distinction between "learning" and "performance" has been blurred (Catania, 1998). Catania's above definition of OL includes two possible effects of observation. One effect involves the child doing what he can already do by observing consequences (performance); the other effect is that the child is able to do something she could not do before (learning). Several studies have shown that by manipulating schedules of reinforcement, rates of the display of certain behaviors changed as a function of observation and may be examples of changing one's performance based on observation rather than learning. For example, Deguchi, Fujita, and Sato (1988) found that preschool students imitated lever responses at high rates after observing a model only when direct reinforcement procedures were in place. Because the emission of lever presses was occasioned by reinforcement, it is likely that the responses had been previously acquired and that learning or the acquisition of new operants was not occurring. Similar findings were demonstrated in Bol and Steinhaur's (1990) study, where only some kindergarten students engaged in puzzle completion after observing a model and others actually decreased their performance. These findings suggest that some children had previously learned the responses and did not emit the desired behavior because of the lack of reinforcement, whereas others had not learned the response. …

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