Imitation is one of the Hybrid Skills. Imitation allows children to download the ideas and ways of thinking of those they associate with. As well as being the sincerest form of flattery, imitation is used by the offspring of the entire animal kingdom from infancy until the onset of puberty, to learn appropriate social conduct and skills.

From an educational perspective, perhaps the most important role imitation plays is by engendering cooperation.  That’s why J. Oestenbroek calls “Imitation is a mighty oak of human cognition.” She further explains her insight, “It is through imitation in a social setting that interactions allow children to download more complex cognitive processes.” 

Dr. Connor Wood of Boston University proposes that over-imitation in fact is the skill which has allowed us to evolve to the point where there are only 300,000 chimpanzees left and over 7 billion of us, even though we share 98.8% of our DNA. His plausible argument for success through over-imitation is based on the premise that we look to what the masters do and copy them because they are masters. He writes, “The human propensity for over-imitation thus makes possible what anthropologists call cumulative culture: the long-term development of skills and technologies over generations. No single person might understand all the practical reasons behind each step to making a bow or carving a canoe, much less transforming rare earth minerals into iPhones. But as long as people copy with high fidelity, the technology gets transmitted.” Many of the rituals that characterize human society are in fact imitations of long-standing traditions. Perhaps pedagogy could be considered a ritual.

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Excerpted from my book Hybrid Learning.