Observational learning is not the same as imitation of another behavior. Observational learning occurs as a result of witnessing another person, but is performed later and cannot be explained as having been taught in any other way. This type of learning also encompasses the concept of behavior avoidance as a result of seeing another person behave in a certain way and receive a negative consequence.
There are four stages:
Attention – the person notices something
Retention – the person remembers what was noticed
Production – the person copies what was noticed
Motivation - the consequences result in probability the behavior will be tried again or discarded depending on the result
Some examples of observational learning include:
- An infant learns to make and understand facial expressions.
- A new employee avoids being late to work after seeing a co-worker fired for being late.
- A new car salesperson learns how to approach potential customers by watching other salesmen.
Can observational learning be effective in chess? Alex Yermolinsky in The Road to Chess Improvement, and as he demonstrated in his lectures, used his favorite method of teaching and that was, as he said, by example...e.g. through annotated games. For chess players will observational learning by playing over grandmaster games translate into playing better? Possibly, I think. You would be learning pattern recognition, for example.
For some articles on the subject of pattern recognition you can check out some of the articles listed HERE.