Social Learning Theory
Category : Behavioral Theory
SOCIAL LEARNING THEORY
A. The fundamentals of Social Learning Theory
Social Learning Theory is just one of the many existing theories about how people learn or how people behave towards learning. In his book Social Learning Theory, Professor Albert Bandura (1977) emphasizes the importance of observation and modeling of behaviors, attitudes and emotional reactions of others. Such theory became the most influential theory of learning and development since then.
B. Comparison to other theories of learning
As such, this theory is comparable to cultivation theory and cognitive learning theory. Gad Saad (2007) presents the differences and similarities of the three models. Compared to the two theories that focus on perception of reality and cognitive processes that influence learning respectively, social learning theory emphasizes the importance of observational learning.
II. Social Learning Theory: Assumptions, Scope and Main Intervention Strategies
A. The scope of the theory
As an outgrowth of Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory and Lave’s Situated Learning, the foundations of social learning theory are the basic concepts of traditional learning positing that the usual teaching-learning process alone could not result in all types of learning. An article of Van Wagner (2008) asserts that the basic concept of this theory is that people can learn new information through observation or modeling, and therefore explain the learning behaviors of people. As well, the theory maintains that mental states are very important to learning and that learning does not necessarily result in changed behaviors.
B. The assumptions of the theory
Bandura’s observational learning is supported by three basic models: live, verbal instruction and symbolic. These models involve actual individual demonstrations or act out of a behavior, descriptions and explanations of behaviors and real and fictional characters that display behavior, respectively. He also distinguished the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic reinforcement. The latter, as Bandura stresses in his book Principles of Behavior Modification, as embedded internal thoughts and cognitions help connect learning theories to cognitive development theories in the form of internal reward that includes pride, satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. Put simply, behavior modification centers this theory (1969).
C. The intervention strategies of the theory
Bandura also made mention in a separate book entitled Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis that not all observed behaviors are learned in an effective manner since there are other factors to consider. For instance, the model used and the level of learning of the learner might influence the degree of modeling observed behaviors in order to determine the success of social learning. The four phases that Bandura presented are attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. As explained, observational learning requires the ability to focus, to store information, to perform the behavior observed and to hone the capability to stimulate as part of understanding aggression (1973, 1977).
III. The acceptability of Social Learning Theory
Andersen and Taylor (2006) suggest that the strong point of Bandura’s theory is the complete framework for response acquisition and the direct applicability to experiences. In the attention phase, it can be said that it is simple, distinctive, prevalent, useful and positively depicted. Vicariously, people observe in different ways: reactive, proactive and retentive as what the two authors believe. And since memory is a cognitive function, social learning theory moves beyond plain behaviorism stressing that people not just respond to stimuli but interpret them as well or the inherent conscious awareness. They then continue that the accompanying consequences and punishments, apart from the rewards, of the observed behavior though known to the learner tend to motivate them to imitate what has observed forcing them to break out into actions.
IV. The weakness of Social Learning Theory
Though Bandura promotes that theories shall demonstrate predictive power, insights from social learning theory may not be passable in real contexts as Lefkowitz et al suppose (1977). Therefore, the theory may possess weak causality. As such, the theory cannot really predict the positivity of responses regarding the observed behavior or the ideology that learners perceived the observed behavior as positive as their conducted study discovered. Though also Bandura does not claim that his theory would have significance to politics and economy, the usefulness of the theory lies in matters of death, power and passion, and the role of the surrounding as an important ingredient in the formative mix (1977). Epistemologically, the theory could integrate cognition at all four phases perhaps.
V. The application of Social Learning Theory
Deviant behaviors or that behavior that challenges the status quo has significance for putting theories into practice albeit theories are not at all times treated equally. Certainly, the theories or the combination of such are applied unique to each situation. For instance, in criminology, social learning theory was used and still is being utilized in order to determine different factors that explain aggressive or violent behaviors. According to the book of Akers and Jensen, social learning theory is the direct explanation of crime (2007). Nonetheless, there are also other theories that may support the context of criminality such as social control theories, conflict criminology and labeling theories.
Social Learning Theory functions as: realistic explanation of aggressive and/or deviant behaviors; balanced justification of observational learning; and extensive rationalization of human stimulus. Modifying behaviors is the general concept that the theory discloses. Though it was just an offshoot from other existing theories on that time, social learning theory clarifies the linkage between behaviorism and cognitivism since it takes into account attention, memory and motivation.
Akers, R. L. & Jensen, G. F. (2007). Social Learning Theory and the Explanation of Crime. Transaction Publishers.
Andersen, M. L. & Taylor, H. F. (2006). Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society. Thomson Wadsworth.
Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of Behavior Modification. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.
Chapter 31 – Social Learning Theory of Albert Bandura. Retrieved on 6 May 2008 from http://www.mhhe.com/socscience/comm/bandur-s.mhtml.
Lefkowitz, M., Eron, L., Walder, L., & Huesmann, L. (1977). Growing Up to Be Violent: A longitudinal Study of the Development of Aggression. Pergamon, New York.
Saad, G. (2007). The evolutionary bases of consumption. London: Routledge.
Van Wagner, K. (2008). Social Learning Theory. The New York Times Company.