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How Testers Can Benefit From Observational Learning

How Testers Can Benefit From Observational Learning

Learning would be difficult if we had to learn everything deliberately. A lot of learning takes place indirectly or subconsciously, in a subtle manner by watching the people around us 👁‍🗨

Albert Bandura’s social learning theory showed how humans learn via observation and modeling. Observational learning (a.k.a social learning) is the process of watching others and replicating the observed behavior later.

The primitive man supposedly learned what foods are safe to consume with observational learning. He gathered this knowledge by observing other animals and their food habits.

Additionally, they also retained the knowledge they gained by observing and replicating the previous generation. They borrowed the learnings their ancestors gathered after trial and error of a variety of foods.

Observational learning

Similarly, toddlers watch how their parents behave, retain that information, and later imitate what they had observed. Most of their learning happens through observation and mimicking the observed behavior.

Observational learning can be highly influential in how children shape their values and personality. This was illustrated during the famous Bobo doll experiment (Bandura, 1961). 

Observational learning can act as a powerful learning tool for adults as well. By observing we acquire new behaviors or even skills that others possess. Although it can happen subconsciously, you gain greater benefits from it if you make this process happen deliberately or consciously.

In this article, we will discuss how testers can benefit from observational learning 📚

Pair testing 

Pair testing is a popular technique where two team members pair up to perform exploratory testing. During pair testing, the duo test the same application by sharing a single computer in a timeboxed session.

One of the members has control of the mouse and keyboard and the other suggests ideas for testing, notes the observations, records the bugs, asks questions, etc. The pair may switch roles frequently to make this exercise more effective. 

Pair testing

Testers can pair up with other testers, developers, designers, product managers, etc. Some of us might have already performed pair testing informally without knowing about it. Pair testing fosters the exchange of ideas and perspectives between the participants.

Every tester has his own set of testing heuristics. By pair testing, you can learn other’s heuristics. A heuristic is a rule-of-thumb or a mental shortcut that accelerates decision-making to reduce cognitive load. Heuristics are fallible, yet are crucial to facilitate quick problem solving under uncertainty 🔍

For instance, a test technique that you use or a test idea you have to test a feature is a heuristic that guides your thinking while testing. Heuristics are ready-made test ideas that can be reused. Learning heuristics lets you add variety to your own style of testing. You may learn new skills, tools, techniques, tricks, etc., which will help you to improve as a tester.

Ideas for deliberately putting observational learning to use

  • Pair programming – An automation engineer or a developer can mentor a tester transitioning to an automation role by engaging them in pair programming sessions.
  • Peer mentoring
    • Pairing newbie testers with veterans for training, or combining observational learning with hands-on experience, makes the process highly effective.
    • A new interviewer shadowing a more experienced interviewer for a few testing interviews.
    • New leaders can assist experienced testing leaders with certain tasks. Aspiring leaders can learn leadership skills like conflict resolution, change management, coaching, negotiation, persuasion, and influencing skills which can better prepare them for their new roles.
  • Bug bashes – Listen carefully during the debriefing session, observe the bugs identified and presented by others. Is there something you can learn from others’ issues? Why did you not find the same issue? 
  • Brown bag sessions – Conduct internal learning sessions to promote social learning and sharing knowledge among testers. Brown bag sessions are informal training sessions.
  • Engage in software testing communities that enable you to keep up with the latest trends in the industry (Like this blog for example, or you can even engage with the popular TestProject community).
  • Networking is a great way to exchange knowledge, learn from industry peers and discuss common challenges.

Model the success of others

Tester success

As testers, you can identify the skills you want to learn, look for people who excel at those skills and think of how to model them. Let’s say you want to be a speaker at testing conferences. The best way would be to observe the recordings of the skilled speakers in conferences 📼

Pay attention to the words they emphasize, the pauses they take, the way they structure and visualize their content, how they engage their audience, their style, their gestures, the way they make eye contact, their way of storytelling, etc. Modeling the success of skilled speakers will greatly help you to get started as a speaker. 

Observational learning may not happen if you do not have the motivation to successfully model the behavior of others. Motivation may be driven by a reward, incentive, or a favorable outcome by imitating the observed behavior. There are four stages in observational learning: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.

Choose your company wisely  

Choose your company wisely

💡 There is an old verse in Kannada –

“ಸಜ್ಜನರ ಸಂಗವದು ಹೆಜ್ಜೇನ ಸವಿದಂತೆ” – The company of good people is like savoring honey.

“ದುರ್ಜನರ ಸಂಗ ಬಚ್ಚಲ ಕೊಚ್ಚೆಯಂತಿಹದು ಸರ್ವಜ್ಞ” – The company of bad people is like the stink of sewage.

Surround yourself with people who have the traits, skills, and qualities that you want to learn and cultivate. You are influenced by your friends and colleagues you surround yourself with. You are modeling people around you consciously or subconsciously.

Hence it is important to choose your company wisely. The people with who you spend your time with will have a major impact on your personality.

This is the reason why leaders should be role models and set positive examples for others to follow. Individuals need someone to look up to in their workplace, since most of them observe and emulate their leader’s behavior.

Leaders play a crucial role in any cultural transformation the organization is striving to achieve. Therefore leaders also need to exhibit the behavior that they expect their team members to cultivate. 


Observation learning is a cognitive process that occurs naturally in a social setting through observation and imitation. Pair testing, pair programming, bug bashes, brown bag sessions, and peer mentoring are all forms of social learning.

Observational learning is everywhere in the workplace. Furthermore, knowing this fact and taking advantage of it will help you evolve as a tester and build a great testing culture.

How do you benefit from conscious observational learning?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments 💫

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