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Behavior Modeling in Training
Monkey A sees Monkey B dig up a red root and eat it. Monkey B smacks his lips, jumps about excitedly, begins digging again. Monkey A "gets the picture," does some digging of his own, finds a red root, eats it, likes it, and digs for more. Simple as it may seem, this scenario captures the essentials of an emerging approach to the development of training. This new approach, based on the principles of social-learning theory, is known as behavior modeling.

Behavior modeling and social-learning theory
Few trainers have more than a vague familiarity with behavior modeling and its parent, social-learning theory. Part of that unfamiliarity has to do with origins. Social-learning theory is a by-product of investigations by Albert Bandura, James Aronfreed, and others into the development of moral behavior in children. The specific question they investigated was: "If people tend to behave in ways that lead to satisfaction in any situation, why do they often appear to forego rewards in order to behave in ways that are socially acceptable, even in private?" The learning model they evolved to answer this question — social-learning theory —emphasizes two simple mechanisms: conditioning and the observation of models.

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Conditioning, a la Bandura, is essentially Skinner's reinforcement-of- behavior concept but with a strong emphasis on interpersonal attention, approval and affection as powerful reinforcers. As children, we learn to re¬peat behavior that gains parental ap¬proval, and we learn to avoid actions that bring withdrawal of affection and/or punishment and disapproval. The approval and disapproval of others remain powerful rewards and punishments throughout our lives.

The social-learning approach recognizes the importance of internal events, such as thoughts and memories, on the control of our behavior but insists that all behavior is at least indirectly controlled by external cues. As we become adults, we learn to reward and punish ourselves "internally" in imitation of previously encountered "external" reward and punishment. Once we've been burned by a hot stove, chances are slim that we'll touch one again, regardless of "social" pressures.

Modeling or observational learning is the way we learn from others' experiences. It takes place in two steps: acquisition and performance. In the first step, we see others act, and we acquire a mental picture of the act and its consequences. After the mental image is acquired, we perform or try out the act ourselves. This is, of course, where conditioning principles come into play. If we find the consequences of imitating the model rewarding, we're likely to act that way again. Obviously, you and I don't imitate and try out every behavior we see others engaged in. In fact, adults seem to apply quite a few restrictions to whom and what they will parrot.

We are most likely to try out a new behavior if we see someone prestigious, powerful and competent doing it. (How many of us, for instance, dusted off our old tennis racket and ambled onto the court because a significant role model — some personal idol or strong influence— encouraged us through exam¬ple?)

But our expectations and experiences with reward and punishment in similar situations also mediate the chances that we'll try the modeled behavior. A five-foot-five, 35-year-old male, watching Bill Walton play a magnificent game of basketball/may not be encouraged by the example to play a little one-on-one.- But a five-foot-five, 15Tyeaf-old female might be.

A growing number of trainers are learning that the special-learning theory approach leads to a radically different framework for designing training, one that is particularly useful to those who train others to do complex motor-skill tasks and those who train others in interpersonal communication tasks. The use of modeling in the technical-training context has long been recognized. Anyone who has tried to write or even read repair instructions for anything more complex than a rubber band appreciates modeling and learning by imitation. In technical training, the score has always been: talk about it = 0; see diagrams of it = 10; watch someone do it = 1,000.

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The big news now is that interpersonal skills, such as those needed to sell or conduct effective performance reviews, can be effectively taught and learned using modeling and social reinforcement. Trainers at IBM, General Electric, AT&T, Levitz Furniture, and others are finding that supervisory, sales, and customer-relations skills are learned faster and more effectively when taught from a modeling base.

Bandura suggests that the social-learning theory is a successful train¬ing design tool because it mirrors critical features of the real world in the training experience. In fact, Dr. Bandura bluntly downgrades the efficiency of learning from textbooks and lectures, and from word descriptions of things learnable from direct example.

"The marked discrepancy between textbook and social reality is largely attributable to the fact that certain critical conditions present in natural situations are rarely, if ever, reproduced in laboratory studies of learning. In laboratory investigations, experimenters arrange comparatively benign environments in which errors do not create fatal consequences for the organism. By contrast, natural environments are loaded with potentially lethal consequences for those unfortunate enough to perform hazardous errors. For this reason, it would be exceedingly injudicious to rely on differential reinforcement of trial-and-error performances in teaching children to swim, adolescents to drive automobiles, medical students to conduct surgical operations, or adults to develop complex occupational and social competencies."

"There are several reasons why modeling influences are heavily favored in promoting everyday learning. Under circumstances in which mistakes are costly or dangerous, skillful performances' can be established without needless errors by providing competent models who demonstrate the required activities. Some complex behaviors can be produced solely through the influence of models. If children had no opportunity to hear' speech, it would be virtually impossible to teach them the linguistic skills that constitute a language. When desired forms of behavior can be conveyed only by social cues, modeling is an indispensible aspect of learning. Even in instances where it is possible to establish new response pat¬terns through other means, the process of acquisition can be considerably shortened by providing appropriate models."

Dr. William C. Byham, president of Development Dimensions International, a Pittsburgh, PA-based training company that uses behavior modeling in its program designs, suggests, "Modeling is the way we've all learned from day one. Our whole developmental history is one of modeling the behavior of others. Look, I talk to a lot of successful managers and quiz them about their success. To a person, they claim that the most important experience in their career was working for an exceptional manager at some time — usually early — in their career. They seem to be saying they had a manager who was a good model and mentor. Unfortunately, that's an experience most of us won't have. And that's why I'm so high on giving people good models to learn from instead of textbooks and lectures."

In short, then, social-learning theory and research strongly suggest that, when conditions are right, a trainee can learn rapidly and effectively from exposure to a model per¬forming the desired behavior.

Applying modeling and social learning to training
The first interpersonal-skills training using behavior-modeling techniques in industry was conducted in 1970 at General Electric by Mel Sorcher. The objective of this first course was to reduce the turnover of hard-core employees by helping them adapt to and cope with a job in industry. Both hard-core employees and their first-line supervisors were trained in taking and giving constructive criticism, asking for and giving help, and establishing mutual trust and respect. The actual training was light on human-relations theory and attitude messages and long on visual examples— films of people doing good interpersonal relating— and role play. Basically, the training was exceptionally successful.

Six months after the original training, 72% of the 39 hard-core employees who had been trained and who worked for supervisors who had been trained remained on the job. Only 28% of the 25 hard-core employees who had not been trained and who worked for un¬trained supervisors did not leave. More important, Goldstein and Sorcher synthesized the important elements of the modeling-training approach, and it has been used widely in the development of interpersonal skills ever since. Question: So what's the big deal? Don't we, more or less, use modeling in all our training? Most of us show movies — that sounds like modeling —and most of us give live demonstrations. That, too, sounds like modeling. And lots of us use practice and role playing, and that sounds like social reinforcement. So why all the hubbub?

For starters, simply exposing trainees to film and video images of people doing things isn't modeling. A recent stopwatch study of 15 commercial training films revealed that, out of 420 minutes of film, the largest block of time (235 minutes or 56%) was de¬voted to explaining the skills. Twenty-two percent or 92 minutes were titles and transitions, 13% or 55 minutes showed people doing the skill incorrectly, and only nine percent or 38 minutes showed people doing the skill correctly or modeling the behavior. That is an average of 2.6 minutes of correct-skill demonstration per film. Producers of training films would not be surprised at these numbers since they conceptualize their job as dramatizing and communicating an idea rather than providing a source of skill models.

The moral is that simply putting your message on film doesn't qualify the product as a source of behavior modeling experience. Even showing trainees a film or videotape composed solely of examples of people doing the behavior or demonstrating the skill correctly isn't a learning shoe-in. By analogy, you and I can go to a tennis tournament, watch Connors and Evert play perfect tennis and not learn any¬thing new about the game. Unless we attend with the conscious intent of "going to school" on Conner's footwork or Evert's backhand, we won't come away with any new backhand or foot¬work models.

In training based on modeling and social learning, care is given to facilitating three processes in the trainees:

• Attention — making sure the trainees attend to the pertinent as¬pects of the behavior being modeled;

• Retention — helping the trainees remember the original observation points in the form;

• Reinforcement and motivation —using practice and positive rein¬forcement to translate observational learning into skilled performance.

Development Dimensions' Byham suggests that these three processes are promoted by adhering to a specific sequence of events in the training:

1. Overview. The instructor discusses the objective and importance of the skill module. 2. Critical steps. The instructor describes the specific behavior or critical steps of the activity to be learned.

3. Positive model. A film or videotape shows an individual effectively utilizing the skill.

4. Critique of the film. The instructor and participants discuss the things done correctly in the film, with particular emphasis on how the model utilized the critical steps.

5. Skill practice. Trainees practice the skills in pairs, with one trainee acting the supervisor, salesperson or whatever and the second acting the employee, buyer and so forth. At least one other trainee observes the practice, using a prepared guide.

6. Skill practice feedback. After the practice session, the trainee receives -feedback from observers and the instructor that emphasizes things done correctly. Where the behavior could have been more effective, alternative positive behaviors are suggested.

7. Transfer. Participants write out, practice, and receive feedback on situations they will face back on the job.

Byham also passes along the follow¬ing tips and tricks for those who con-template building a program around modeling concepts.

• Do a good needs analysis. Solving the wrong problem is still the trainer's number-one pitfall.
• Determine the specific situations where the new behavior is expected to manifest itself.
• Determine the minimum critical steps of the activity or skill to be mas¬tered; don't complicate matters by listing too many critical steps.
• Spend up to 50% of the training time on the trainees on-job problems. (Development Dimensions courses typically devote 10 minutes to viewing the filmed model in a three-hour training sequence.)
• Keep the feedback sessions positive. The goal is to create a series of success experiences for the trainees.
• Develop the training group into a mutual support group.
• Don't expect a one-shot training program to yield a big behavior change. Work on one skill at a time over a period of weeks. Give trainees time and space to try out the new behaviors and come back for consultation with the rest of the group and the instructor.

Do behavior-modeling programs work?
Research on the effectiveness of behavior modeling in clinical and school settings is persuasive. Most assertiveness training is done through modeling, and has an impressive composite track record. But how effective is the approach in our world, the normal adult learning context? There is an equally impressive accumulation of studies that say the approach is effective in business and industry.

We have already mentioned Sorcher's work and the book based on his and Goldstein's successes. Robert F. Burnaska, also of GE, reports that a course developed to improve the interpersonal skills of the managers of professional employees was equally successful. A one-month follow-up comparison of 62 trained and 62 un¬trained middle managers showed that trained managers were better at performance problem discussion, work assignment discussion, and giving recognition to an average employee than were the untrained managers. In addition, a five-month follow-up found trained managers even better than they were at the one-month follow-up point.

At AT&T, Joseph L. Moses and Richard J. Ritchie developed a behavior - modeling - oriented supervisory-relationships training program fol¬lowing the Goldstein and Sorcher model and evaluated the results, using an assessment-center approach. A team of specially trained individuals observed and evaluated 90 trained and 93 untrained first-level supervisors performing a variety of simulation exercises. Two months after the pro¬gram, both groups were given cases of excessive absence, an alleged discrimination complaint, and a case of suspected theft. In all simulated situations, the trained group utilized "appropriate skills" and handled the situations significantly better than did the untrained group.

Preston E. Smith of IBM office products division reports that modeling training of meeting effectiveness skills, discussing opinions survey results, and customer complaint handling has paid off handsomely for his organization. Trained managers were rated higher on employee opinion surveys after training than before. In addition, customer-satisfaction ratings and sales-quota results were higher for branches managed by trained managers.

Frank W. Bonheim, vice-president of personnel at Levitz Furniture Cor-poration in Miami, reports that a behavior-modeling-oriented sales-training program has been producing impressive floor-sales results for his organization. The program, developed by Mandev Training Corp., concen¬trated on showing six sales steps and extensive role playing. Bonheim's evaluation suggests that trained salespeople are better at objection handling and have a higher closing percentage.

The greatest improvements were recorded for previously middle-performing salespeople. Furthermore, Bonheim believes that managers who acted as instructors for the program have become better managers. Lest we seem about to leap too quickly onto the behavior-modeling bandwagon, let's review three facts about < the technique. First, the behavior-modeling approach comes from a learning model — social-learning theory — that has an impressive set of credentials. Second, a number of trainers are finding that the application of modeling principles is further reducing their dependence on the "spray and pray" approach to training. Third, good, solid evaluations are verifying the effectiveness.

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But, as the folks at "Ma Bell" re¬mind us, "The system is the solution." And no new training program or technique can overcome bad products, poor market positioning, or a management team that fights change. With this in mind, we should avoid setting expectations for behavior modeling that it can't fulfill. But we also should be glad we have an inno¬vation, a new tool, that helps us per¬form better professionally. Who knows what will happen if we begin to model the professionalism we profess.

Source : Training Magazine, June 1978