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Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory (also known as Social Cognitive Theory) is the idea that people learn by watching what others do and that human thought processes are central to understanding personality. Social learning theory stemmed out of work by N.E. Miller and J. Dollard in 1941. Their proposition posits that if humans were motivated to learn a particular behavior that particular behavior would be learned through clear observations. By imitating these observed actions the individual observer would solidify that learned action and would be rewarded with positive reinforcement (Miller & Dollard, 1941). The proposition of social learning was expanded upon and theorized by Albert Bandura from 1962 to the present.

In the book "Educational Psychology: Developing Learners" (2003) author Jeanne Ellis Ormrod lists the main principles of social learning theory:

  • People learn by observing others.
  • Learning is an internal process that may or may not change behavior.
  • People behave in certain ways to reach goals.
  • Behavior is self-directed (as opposed to the behaviorist thought that behavior is determined by environment.)
  • Reinforcement and punishment have unpredictable and indirect effects on both behavior and learning.

Observation of Models

Social learning theory revolves around the process of knowledge acquisition or learning directly correlated to the observation of models. The models can be those of an interpersonal imitation or media sources. Effective modeling teaches general rules and strategies for dealing with different situations (Bandura, 1988).

As a result of the observations the individual observer can be affected in two separate ways. The inhibitory effect, a positive punishment action, occurs when an observer sees the action of another involved in a social situation being punished for that action. A disinhibitory effect, a positive reinforcement action, is when an individual is praised for an action and the observer learns from and imitates that action (Miller, 2005). Vicarious reinforcement explains that the observer does not expect actual rewards or punishments but anticipates similar outcomes to his/her imitated behaviors and allows for these effects to work. This portion of social learning theory relies heavily on outcome expectancies.

In education, teachers as well as other learners, can model the desired behavior/concepts. Teachers and learners should be dedicated to building of high self-efficacy levels in the other learners by recognizing their contributions.

Identification and Self-Efficacy

Further development in social learning theory posits that learning will most likely occur if there is a close identification between the observer and the model and if the observer also has a good deal of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy beliefs function as an important set of proximal determinants of human motivation, affect, and action [which] operate on action through motivational, cognitive, and affective intervening processes (Bandura, 1989). Identification allows the observer to feel a one-to-one connection with the individual being imitated and will be more likely to achieve those imitations if the observer feels that they have the ability to follow through with the imitated action (Bandura, 1988).

 

References

  • Bandura, A. (1988). Organizational Application of Social Cognitive Theory. Australian Journal of Management, 13(2), 275-302.
  • Bandura, A. (1989). Human Agency in Social Cognitive Theory. American Psychologist, 44, 1175-1184.
  • Miller, N. E., & Dollard, J. (1941). Social Learning and Imitation. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Miller, Katherine (2005). Communication Theories: Perspectives, Processes, and Contexts (2nd ed.). New York, New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Information obtained by a lecture given by Thomas McClean in 2005.

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© 2011 Richard Culatta