Observational learning, also known as Social Learning Theory, describes the process that occurs when the learner sees a behaviour demonstrated by a role model as well as the consequence of the same behaviour. Parents and older family members often serve as role models just as television and video game characters do as well. There are clear disadvantages to this kind of learning. Although Observational Learning occurs naturally in social settings, not all outcomes related to it are advantageous.

Poor Role Models Demonstrate Poor Behavior

While observational learning is effective in teaching positive new behaviours, it may also encourage the adoption of previously forbidden behaviour. During the 90s psychologists made a startling statement based on Albert Bandura's theories that children learnt to behave aggressively after witnessing violent acts performed by adults or older children, specifically family members. For example, children who witness a parent's abusive behaviour are at a higher risk of becoming abusive themselves.

Undesirable Models May Reinforce Behavior

In many cases, television is a source of behaviour modelling. Many forms of both adult and child entertainment involve some type of behaviour and portray this as socially acceptable and even desirable. This type of exposure has been shown to precipitate aggressive behaviour in those who observe it regularly. For example, one study stated that homicide rates increased after media events like televised heavyweight championships. A second study found that children who watched a higher than average amount of television were almost 49 per cent more likely to become violent criminals.

Evidence of Learning is Not Always Visible

Albert Bandura pioneered the study of observational learning. During the 20th century, he refined a description of the learning process, which required learners to observe certain behaviours, remember the action, and have the opportunity to model the behaviour. However, recent experts argue that learning occurs after observation of certain behaviours and their consequences despite the fact that learners may not physically repeat the same behaviour for some time.

Observational Learning Requires Motivation

Learners are more motivated to repeat behaviours they enjoy and are capable of performing successfully. Observational Learning Theory lacks consideration of other important factors in learning. The Social Learning Theory generally ignores an individual's physical and psychological limitations. Inherited conditions may affect how learners react to an act, as well as their ability to retain and repeat certain behaviours.