Behavior Modeling: Theory & Examples

behavior modeling example and definition

The idea of behavior modeling has its roots in social learning theory. This theory holds that children learn through observation.

As a result, parents and teachers should model appropriate behavior at all times when children are observing them.

Modeling can, however, also be used in explicit instruction to help people learn concepts. For example, teachers may embrace a model like guided practice, where the teacher first models a task before allowing students to try to copy the teacher’s modeled instruction.

Behavioral Modeling Definition

Salisu and Ransom (2014) offer a very complete definition of modeling in education:

“Modeling is an instructional strategy in which the teacher demonstrates a new concept or approach to learning and students learn by observing. Modeling describes the process of learning or acquiring new information, skills, or behavior through observation, rather than through direct experience or trial-and-error efforts.”

(Salisu & Ransom, 2014, p. 54)

Modeling has its theoretical roots in Social Learning Theory by psychologist Albert Bandura (1977).

Social Learning Theory identifies four factors in learning: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.

  • Attention: In order for a student to learn, they must be attentive to the teacher during instruction.
  • Retention: The information acquired must be placed in long-term memory.
  • Reproduction: The student must be able to reproduce the learned behavior.
  • Motivation: Even if the above three conditions are met, the student must also want to display the learned behavior.

In addition, characteristics of the person modeling the behavior are also important. Models that are rewarded for their actions, are considered experts, or have high status in society are more likely to be emulated.

Behavior Modeling Examples

  • Modeling Social Norms: Social norms are modeled by parents and educators on a daily basis. By acting as the ideal model – being polite, not raising your voice, etc. – children learn what is acceptable and unacceptable in the school or home environment.
  • Gender Socialization: It is believed children learn gender norms through daily, implicit, cultural modeling from parents, caregivers, siblings, and media. By watching how models behave, children learn what appears to be normal behavior for their gender, which leads them toward embracing those behaviors in their own lives.
  • Modeling Rules: A good teacher or parent sets a high standard for the child to follow. Similarly, a good boss does not flout their own rules, or else they may lose the respect of their staff.
  • Role Modeling: A role model may be a parent, teacher, sibling, celebrity, or sports star. They are often observed closely by the person who admires them, meaning they have greater responsibility to model everyday good behaviors.
  • Modeled Instruction: Teachers model instruction in lessons where they first show the students how to do a task before the students themselves have go. For example, a baseball teacher might talk the students through the right pose (stance, shoulder and elbow placement) for the pitcher before the students then each have a try.
  • Workplace Modeling: Bosses, managers and supervisors model appropriate behavior in the workplace to set the standard for others to follow. This is necessary for a productive workplace culture.
  • Explicit Modeling: This involves a teacher clearly and intentionally demonstrating something so the learners can follow. It’s contrasted with implicit or tacit modeling.
  • Implicit Modeling: Unlike explicit modeling, implicit modeling doesn’t involve a teacher talking through their demonstrations or even asking for attention. Instead, they just set a standard through their behavior daily.
  • Chunking: Often, demonstrations fail because the information is too much, leading to cognitive overload. To overcome this, the teacher models one step at a time then gives the learner a chance to master that step before moving onto the next.
  • Gradual Release of Responsibility: This instructional model is a three-step process for learning. First, the teacher models a task. Then, the teacher and class attempt the class together (with the teacher still taking an active guiding role). Thirdly, each student individually has a go without the teacher’s direct modeling or assistance.
  • Situated Learning: Situated learning theory holds that learning occurs very effectively when it takes place in the context in which it’s applied. For example, learners during an internship or work placement will observe someone at work, then slowly try out some of the responsibilities for themselves.

Strengths and Limitations of Behavior Modeling

Strengths of Behavior ModelingLimitations of Behavior Modeling
It can be more helpful than direct instruction because learners are not just told what to do, but actually see it. By observing, learners get a visceral in-depth understanding of what’s required.It can perpetuate existing biases and negative stereotypes, if the model themselves has those biases and stereotypes. For example, a father who is unkind to the mother is modeling poor behavior as ostensibly acceptable in a relationship.
It Can save time and resources compared to trial-and-error learning. It allows learners to follow the correct path immediately rather than fiddling and middling until they stumble upon the best ways to do things.It can lead to a lack of creativity and innovation as learners may only mimic existing behaviors rather than developing their own approaches.
It can help students gain confidence in knowing how to perform new behaviors or skills, as they can see how others have successfully done so. This can help learners quickly take action.It may not be effective for complex or abstract skills that are difficult to observe and replicate. For example, many skills, behaviors, and thought processes are tacit and happen in the mind, and this cannot be observed.
It can be used to reinforce the norms of a cultural or social setting. It sets the tone and high expectations by demonstrating exactly what social behaviors are expected. This is particularly valuable in organizational settings where leaders can model behaviors they want to see in their employees.Needs to be targeted at the right level for the learner. Modeling may not be effective if the learner does not have the sufficient level of skill or ability that is being modeled, as they may not be able to replicate the behavior effectively.
On a societal level, it can be used to shape social norms and expectations. By modeling desired behaviors and attitudes, cultural values, traditions, and belief systems are passed down through the generations.It can lead to a lack of understanding of the underlying principles and reasons for why certain behaviors are effective or desirable, as learners may only focus on observations rather than the reasoning behind the actions.

Case Studies

1. Teacher Training on Modeling Positive Behavior

Given that students learn through observation, it is paramount that teachers model appropriate behavior. Disruptive behavior from students can affect quality of instruction, teacher pride, and classroom atmosphere.

Sibanda and Mathwasa (2020) point out, “since learners learn from role models, teachers have an obligation of being living examples of the kind of behaviour that is expected” (p. 309).

The researchers examined an initiative to provide teacher training in modeling positive behavior. Participants received training through:

  1. Orientations for new staff
  2. Routine reminders to teachers, parents, and learners regarding appropriate behavior
  3. Ensuring teachers and learners model such behavior during assemblies and other school events

Data were collected during semi-structured interviews of school heads and counsellors, as well as focus groups with disciplinary committees.

Although there were some exceptions,

“The findings of the study also confirmed that when talking to learners, most teachers used appropriate language; conducted themselves appropriately in the presence of learners and dressed formal so that learners could emulate them” (p. 319).

This study demonstrates the effectiveness of training teachers on how to model appropriate behavior to foster a positive school environment.

2. Teaching Self-Regulation Through Modeling

Teacher modeling of academic concepts and skills are important. Kids can learn a lot by observing how a teacher does something.

But, as Bandura’s Social Learning Theory points out, if students are not paying attention, then they won’t be able to learn.

Students need to be in the right mindset to focus their attention on what exactly the teacher is modeling.

Unfortunately, students of all ages can have difficulty self-regulating in class. They might feel frustrated with a lesson, or they may simply be unable to control their impulse to talk to their neighbor.

This is where teachers can help by modeling how to self-regulate.

In this video, we see the teacher expressing her thoughts out loud so that students can see what actions trigger her frustration. This is called “articulating authentic emotions.”

She then models a breathing exercise to bring her nervous system down to baseline. The kids observe and then practice themselves.

3. Statistics Class In The Computer Lab

Statistics can be one of the most intimidating subjects in the curriculum. Just hearing the phrase “statistical analysis” can send shivers down the spine of even the most confident student.

Fortunately, modern software packages have become very user-friendly. Rather than requiring users to write lines of code, many programs today are menu-driven.

This can make learning how to conduct analyses far more effective. The instruction can take place in a computer lab where students sit at workstations with their own computers.

The instructor is seated at the front and their computer screen is projected onto a large screen visible to all students.

The teacher demonstrates the steps needed to input data, conduct an analysis, and create various graphs and charts. Since the students can observe each and every step on the projector screen, they can follow along at their own workstations.

4. Behavior Modeling With Respect

Classroom management is one of the most challenging aspects of teaching. Keeping a class of 20+ students focused on class instruction is a continuous challenge.

Sometimes it can be a bit frustrating, particularly when students are very loud or making extremely irritating noises, as can be seen in this video.

The student is moving their desktop back and forth so that it emits a very loud and very irritating noise. The teacher might be quick to speak loudly to the student and use a harsh tone of voice.

Instead, the teacher calls the student’s attention to their actions by asking a question. This immediately directs the child’s attention to what they are doing.

Then the teacher sits in the desk and models how to maneuver the top in a way that it no longer makes the noise.

He then gives the student a chance to demonstrate the desired behavior and reinforces their actions afterwards with a friendly tap on the desk and a “good job.”

5. Is Modeling For Young Learners Enough?

Learning how to read and comprehension are among the most important educational outcomes in the early ages. It is the foundation for learning at each grade level, but they are often one of the most difficult skills for young learners to master.

Unfortunately, while teachers often use question-and-answer techniques, students “are infrequently provided with demonstrations of the comprehension strategies needed to answer the questions posed” (Salisu & Ransom, 2014, p. 56)

“Models do not give children much in the way of information about how proficient readers actually accomplish such feats” (p. 57).

In reading comprehension lessons, teachers must add instruction regarding processes so that children are not left to guess how to perform a task.


Modeling a learning process is an excellent instructional technique to help students learn how to do something. The teacher demonstrates, the students observe, then the students do.

Of course, according to Social Learning Theory, it’s not completely that simple. Students have to be paying attention to the model, commit the information to long-term memory, and have the skills and motivation to actually reproduce the modeled behavior.

Modeling is a great way to help students understand how to use software to conduct complex statistical analyses, self-regulate emotions, and engage in non-disruptive classroom behavior.

With that said, modeling alone is not sufficient. It is but one tool that every teacher needs to implement throughout each lesson engaged.  


Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Prentice Hall.

Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1963). Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 66(1), 3–11.

Salisu, A., & Ransom, E. N. (2014). The role of modeling towards impacting quality education. International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences, 32, 54-61.

Schoenfeld, A. (1998). On modeling teaching. Issues in Education, 4, 149-162.

Sibanda, Lwazi & Mathwasa, Joyce. (2020). Modelling Positive Behaviour: A Vital Strategy in Instilling Positive Discipline Among Secondary School Learners. 1. 308-323.

Wilson, K. J., Long, T. M., Momsen, J. L., & Bray Speth, E. (2020). Modeling in the classroom: Making relationships and systems visible. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 19(1), fe1.

Dave Cornell (PhD)
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Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

Chris Drew (PhD)
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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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