Observing our peers is not only our first mode of learning, but it remains one of the most effective even in adulthood. In the social-cognitive theory of psychologist Albert Bandura, this process at the basis of human development and behaviour is called “modelling” or vicarious experience. Three steps have been identified as essential for obtaining optimal results. Follow the guide to learn how to articulate this approach while integrating elearning.

Beyond imitation

For Albert Bandura, learning is rooted in human cultures, and it is through social modelling that the most sophisticated skills and knowledge are transmitted, whether they are manual, behavioural, social, intellectual or other (see At the very heart of the feeling of personal effectiveness). Modelling is a form of learning by observing others that goes far beyond simple imitation (see Modelling or learning by observation). It implies that the observer grasps the rules implicit in the observed subject’s behaviour and its positive or negative consequences to produce new patterns of behaviour that will be similar to but go beyond those of the observed subject in the sense that they will be interpreted and used in a personal way by the learner.

In this context, since we are talking about acquiring and mastering skills, the term “mastery modelling” is appropriate. In addition to being effective, mastery modelling is less likely to give rise to negative emotions during learning (see The Importance of Emotions in Learning and 4 Emotions of Learning). It provides more satisfaction with training than so-called “individual” learning, as Galand and Vanlede describe in their article in Autour de l’œuvre d’Albert Bandura (Savoirs, 2004).

The three steps to successful mastery modelling are:

  1. Instructive modelling
  2. Guided improvement
  3. The transfer of skills to real-life situations

Instructive modelling

The purpose of instructive modelling is to show learners the skills to be acquired and show them how to achieve them. To do this, the trainer must first identify the sub-skills (simpler tasks) involved in the complex skills to be mastered. The execution of each task will then be demonstrated through a model. This first step lends itself well to the online mode, as the demonstration can be presented as a video that learners can view as many times as needed.


  • The trainer can be the model himself or herself or work in a team with a model.
  • This presentation should not only show how to do the task and the best strategies for doing it, but it should also foster the learners’ sense of self-efficacy.
  • If possible, the model should reflect the learners. For example, if the learners are predominantly young adults, the role model should be of the same age group; if the training is aimed at a particular professional group, the style of dress and behaviour of the role model should be consistent with the requirements of that profession.
  • If the taught skills are relational in nature, it makes sense to have at least two models to simulate the interactions.
  • Virtual reality can be an exciting option insofar as it adds value to the training, especially if the skills being taught involve a certain degree of danger (for example, handling dangerous chemicals) or if the situation or environment in which these skills will be used is difficult to access (for example, a mine or specific relational issues). (see Virtual Reality in Learning as Seen by a Ubisoft Expert)
  • Although the core of mastery modelling is the observation of a model, it is not out of the question to provide learning tips and summary notes to learners; in fact, it is desirable! (see Neuroscience: Learning in 4 Steps)

Guided improvement

It is one thing to have a rough understanding of a complex skill, but quite another to have mastered it! It is expected that after the instructional modelling, some sub-skills were less well-integrated and that even those that were integrated need to be improved. This can be achieved by using corrective modelling, where the learner is guided to understand and correct his/her mistakes and improve his/her skills.


  • This step requires the presence of a trainer who can analyze the learner’s performance. This trainer can be the model or work in a team with a model.
  • Since the corrective modelling must be personalized, a direct exchange must occur between the learner and the model-trainer or between the learner, the trainer and the model. In elearning, this step must be done in synchronous If the training is in a blended approach, it is wise to reserve the corrective modelling for face-to-face interactions.
  • If the taught skills are relational in nature, this step can involve several learners, who will be corrected and guided by the trainer in turn through role-playing.
  • Since corrective modelling is likely to generate more negative emotions in the learner than instructive modelling — being analyzed and corrected is destabilizing! — this guidance should be empathetic (see Online training in empathic mode). It should also increase the learner’s sense of self-efficacy by focusing on their progress and successes, using a constructive approach and avoiding comparisons and devaluing criticism.

Transfer of skills to real-life situations

Once the corrective modelling stage has been completed, learners are ready to put their new skills to the test in the real-life professional environment for which they are intended. This step ensures that these skills have the desired effects and become part of long-term work practices.


  • When learners take mastery modelling training as part of their work, it is the employer’s responsibility to integrate them into this step through a skills transfer program.
  • Since there are different work realities, the traditional skills transfer program is not the only route to this stage. For example, the trainer may be asked to follow up with learners in their workplace for a while. If the learner, as a self-employed person or student, has approached the trainer to receive mastery modelling, he or she can agree with the trainer on the best way to proceed with this third step.
  • Suppose the trainer carries out this step. In that case, he or she must not only have previously developed a skills transfer strategy adapted to the learner and their work situation but must also validate its effectiveness in a real situation. A questionnaire designed for this purpose will allow the trainer to analyze the situation and guide the discussion with the learner on the essential points. If necessary, the trainer will help the learner make the necessary adjustments so that their new skills can serve them effectively and durably in their work.
Catherine Meilleur

Catherine Meilleur

Creative Content Writer @KnowledgeOne. Questioner of questions. Hyperflexible stubborn. Contemplative yogi.

Catherine Meilleur has over 15 years of experience in research and writing. Having worked as a journalist and educational designer, she is interested in everything related to learning: from educational psychology to neuroscience, and the latest innovations that can serve learners, such as virtual and augmented reality. She is also passionate about issues related to the future of education at a time when a real revolution is taking place, propelled by digital technology and artificial intelligence.