Friday, June 03, 2005

Learning By Observation

"To really understand animals and their behavior you must have an esthetic appreciation of an animal's beauty. This endows you with the patience to look at them long enough to see something." - Konrad Lorenz

Observation is one of the most important tools for innovative thinking, although it is not a simple matter to teach. When observation is done well, it's often because of love, 'flow' or a bit of obsession. If delight isn't there or worse if it's coerced, then it may be just a little bit of going through the motions.

It's not a simple process learning how we learn through observation. In a previous post (here), we've seen how experts can abstract information more quickly through observation, but in other experiments, these researchers also saw how an expert artist was able to direct his seeing (using infrared tracking of eye movements) in a way that might yield more information as well. Compare the infrared tracking movements of the artist vs. non-artist below. Look how different the artist viewed the face, encircling the eyes and face, almost like brushstrokes.

Now here's another interesting tidbit we can learn about learning by observation - it's not always conscious. In the McGill study below, researchers found that distraction did not interfere with people's ability to learn a motor movement by observation. The resesarchers hypothesize that the learning process somehow involves the development of internal representations - so that even if you're distracted while you're watching, it can be demonstrated that you still are able to learn. It's interesting to think about the sort information that comes in that is not entirely conscious - perhaps its this sort of information that gets kicked up with insight-based or non-deductive thinking.

Learning By Observation McGill pdf>
Newsletter About McGill Study>
Artist Seeing Infrared

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