Observational Learning

Abstract: Observational Learning through Professional Studio Practice

This research explores the value for students in learning practical technical skills by the direct observation of an expert making in a professional workshop. Curriculum design for teaching and learning of practical skills in practice-based courses in art and design have traditionally followed the ‘technical demonstration’ mode of delivery. This normally involves students observing demonstrations of specific techniques given by academic or technical staff sited in University workshops. 

Building on knowledge developed in the research project Learning and Teaching Through Practice (Boyes, Cousens & Stuart 2008) found value in live performance in respect of virtual representation, and the richness of non-verbal communication but raised questions about the limitations of demonstrating a specific technique out of context of the whole creative process. Particularly the difficulty of reflecting the true time span of processes and the rhythm of making. 

This research addresses these issues by learning techniques as part of the entire process of the production of an artefact within a professional context and looks at how curriculum design could be developed to incorporate this method of learning in addition to traditional demonstrations. Through using the method of student learning through observation it may connect more directly with the tacit knowledge essential in practical disciplines. It brings ‘real life’ experience and links work-related learning with student learning experience in the acquisition of technical skills and processes.

The research undertaken and data collected is from students within a multidisciplinary course and findings will have relevance to learning in many practice-based subjects within art and design as well as others outside such as nursing, midwifery, culinary arts and sciences.