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Examples of Latent Learning

The term latent learning refers to the process in which learning takes place, but there is no demonstration of that knowledge until a reward or incentive is present.

Understanding Latent Learning

Some examples of latent learning include:

  • A student is taught how to perform a special type of addition, but does not demonstrate the knowledge until an important test is administered.
  • A passenger in a carpool learns the route to work each day through observation, but does not exhibit that knowledge until it is necessary for him to drive the same route.
  • A dog is taught to sit but does not do so until offered a treat as a reward.
  • A child observes others using proper manners but does not demonstrate that knowledge until prompted to use the manners.
  • A cat is taught to use the litter box, but does not do so until given rewards when he does use it.
  • An employee is taught how to do specific higher level tasks but does not demonstrate the ability to do them until he is given a promotion.
  • A person is taught how to use a computer, but does not do so until given one as a gift.
  • A college freshman is taught study skills, but does not study until failing several exams. Upon using the skills taught to him, he is successful on exams.
  • A parrot is trained to talk but does not do so until offered treats as a reward.
  • A child is trained by parents to use the bathroom but does not do so until given rewards for doing so.
  • A college student is taught how to teach, but is unable to demonstrate that knowledge until she receives a teaching job.
  • A child observes how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but does not do so until given the opportunity to make one himself.
  • A driver watches tire pressure being measured, but does not exhibit the ability to do so until she needs to check if her tire requires inflation.
  • A dolphin is trained to dance with its trainer by watching others, but does not do so until given fish as a reward.
  • A child learns how to dance by watching characters on television, but only demonstrates that knowledge once asked by others.
  • A person learns to cook by watching cooking shows on television, but exhibits the knowledge later, when asked to make a dish for a work event.
  • A child learns to sew by watching her mother, but does not sew until she loses a button on her own shirt.
  • A student learns to paint by watching others, but does not do so until he must paint a picture for a grade in an art class.
  • A person learns how to wash dishes, but does not wash dishes until she lives by herself.
  • A person learns how to unclog a drain by watching others do so, but does not perform the function until her own drain clogs.
  • Children learn how to see saw by watching others at the playground, but until they have a friend to do it with, they do not demonstrate the knowledge.
  • A young boy learns how to play basketball but does not demonstrate that knowledge until he joins a basketball team.

Latent learning is very common, as these many examples show.


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