Albert Bandura’s “Social Learning Theory” and Its Impact on Teachers and Learning
Think back to your childhood. Do you remember learning to ride a bike, how to play checkers, and do simple addition problems? I bet you learned these skills by watching someone else ride their bike, play a game of checkers, and solve addition problems. That is what Albert Bandura, a social cognitive psychologist, believed.
Bandura is known for his social learning theory. He is quite different from other learning theorists who look at learning as a direct result of conditioning, reinforcement, and punishment. Bandura asserts that most human behavior is learned through observation, imitation, and modeling.
Let’s look more closely at Bandura’s Social Learning Theory and the implications of this theory on teaching and student learning.
See also: Flipped Classroom
Learning Through Observation: Live, Verbal, and Symbolic
Bandura is famous for his studies of children observing adults who acted aggressively toward a doll. After the children viewed this behavior, they were given dolls to play with. Can you guess how they interacted with the dolls? You’re right. They imitated the aggressive actions that they observed earlier.
But Bandura took the meaning of “observation” even further. In addition to a “live” model, he explored a “verbal” instructional model, whereby if certain explanations and descriptions were presented, then learning was enhanced. I am sure you can think of an example of when someone patiently explained something to you in a way that helped you to learn it. That’s the perfect example of a verbal instructional model.
He also studied “symbolic” models, where characters (fiction/non-fiction) in movies, television programs, online media, and books could lead to learning. This means that students could learn from watching a movie or television program, listening to any number of online media sources (e.g., podcasts), or from reading a book. They envisioned how the characters reacted and how they felt, etc. This, in turn, taught them how to react and feel in similar life situations.
The Importance of Motivation and Mental State
Bandura claims that observation alone may not be sufficient enough to incur maximal learning; a person’s motivation and their mental state also influence learning. Bandura agreed with the behavioral theorists who noted that external reinforcement shapes learning, but he also acknowledged that learning is not always a result of external reinforcement. He claimed that learning is a result of intrinsic reinforcement as well. For example, a student might learn something because of their pride, for a sense of satisfaction, or to fulfill a feeling of accomplishment. This factor of learning intrinsically connects Bandura’s learning theory to those of other cognitive-developmental theories.
See also: Inclusive Teaching Strategies
Learning Doesn’t Always Lead to a Behavioral Change
Behaviorists argue that learning leads to a permanent change in behavior. However, Bandura showed that observational learning can occur without the learner demonstrating any new behavior. In other words, you can observe, imitate, or model something but you might not learn it. He explored the question of what needs to happen for an observable behavior to be learned (in addition to observation) and cited four necessary steps: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.
Observation + 4 Necessary Steps = Learning
Attention: First off, the learner needs to pay attention. If they are distracted, this will influence the amount or quality of learning that occurs. I don’t think anyone disagrees with this statement. We have all gotten distracted and know that it affects our learning and quality of work. Additionally, the more interesting or unique the model or situation is, the more fully the learner will attend to the learning. This explains why you might not be able to put down a good book or give up on any one of your passions no matter the obstacles you encounter.
Retention: How you can to store the information learned (i.e., retention) is important. Let’s face it. We have all learned so much content throughout our years of schooling, but how much do we retain? Maybe you can remember the more significant learning in a certain way through any number of memory techniques (e.g., mnemonic devices, writing it down, repetition, etc.). Or maybe you applied the learning to a real-life situation which aids in retention.
Reproduction: Reproduction relies on the first two steps: attention and retention. After completing these steps, you move toward performing the observable behavior. Then with further practice, you will undoubtedly improve and sharpen your skills. The adage “Practice Makes Perfect” applies here.
Motivation: The last step is motivation. To have the most success for any observational learning, you need to be motivated enough to imitate the behavior that was modeled. In this step, both reinforcement and punishment impact motivation. If a student sees someone being rewarded, they are more likely to continue the behavior. Likewise, if they see someone punished or ignored, they may extinguish the behavior.
What are the implications for Social Learning Theory on teachers and student learning?
Certainly, this theory can be used to teach positive behaviors to students. Teachers can use positive role models to increase desired behaviors and thus change the culture of a school. Not only will individual students benefit from positive role models in and out of the classroom, but the entire class and student body will do so.
Other classroom strategies such as encouraging children and building self-efficacy are rooted in social learning theory. For example, if a teacher is positive with their students and they encourage them, this positive energy and verbal encouragement, in turn, helps build self-efficacy, the belief in one’s abilities to succeed in various situations. Bandura found that a person’s self-efficacy impacts how their tasks, goals, and challenges are approached. Those individuals with strong self-efficacy view challenges as tasks to master, develop deep interests in the activities they participate in, form a strong sense of commitment to activities and interests, and bounce back from disappointments and setbacks easily. However, those with a weaker sense of self-efficacy tend to avoid challenges, think difficult tasks and situations are beyond their abilities, think negatively about their failures and outcomes, and lose confidence easily in their abilities.
Furthermore, Bandura states that learning every single thing from personal experience is hard and could be potentially dangerous. He claims that much of a person’s life is rooted in social experiences, thus observing others is naturally advantageous to gaining knowledge and skills.
In conclusion, observation plays a very powerful role in learning. It not only helps teach students but helps them to successfully understand, retain, and apply their learning to their lives so they can learn and achieve even more. For this, we thank Albert Bandura for his Social Learning Theory contribution.
See also: Bloom’s Taxonomy