Friday, January 3, 2014

The Power of Observation

This is a Hoberman Sphere.  A got this for Christmas.  She's been eying it for some time now at the store.  It's been out, she's played with it, she likes it.  We were pretty pumped about this gift at Christmas and so was she.

Recently, while T and her were playing with it (and me as well), something interesting happened.  Bear with me - this is quite subtle.  T watched me spin the sphere and then copied it.  After several more repetitions of this across a few days, A also began spinning the sphere.  This is the first time ever that we have ever since A demonstrate observational learning.  T can do this but it is very much impaired compared to other children.

Observational learning is the foundation of being able to learn without direct instruction or training.  It is why many kids on the spectrum cannot learn very fast - everything has to be specifically trained and generalized.  This is contrasted to operant or classical conditioning or learning.  Observational learning is quicker and more natural.

If you think about how a typical classroom works - a teacher demonstrates something, or children work in groups and watch each other to learn.  They don't need to necessarily do something themselves to make an inference.

Observational learning can be as simple as watching another child go down a slide and noticing how to do it and when they might go.  A simply has never before demonstrated this ability, ever.  Everything has been taught explicitly, nothing has been learned spontaneously.

Such a simple thing, but a huge milestone for her.  Perhaps it will never be repeated...  but she has shown she is capable.  She has shown the ability is in there when motivated.

And that's pretty darn awesome.