Learning theories play a large role in the cultivation of curriculum within the realm of education. The purpose of this discussion is to describe how a selected learning theory influences curriculum. For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on Social learning theory. Our research will contain a discussion of the learning theory, a description of how it affects curriculum design, and thoughts on the use of the theory in the 21st century schools.
Discussion of Social Learning Theory
There are many different learning theories that exist and are used to shape what students learn in the classroom. According to an article in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, social learning theory asserts, "behaviors modeled by others may be imitated in other relationships. Specifically, behaviors of higher status individuals are more likely to be imitated by individuals of lower status (Reese-Weber, 2000)." In other words, this theory asserts that human behavior and its consequences are learned through observation.
The social learning theory was first introduced by Albert Bandura and is also referred to as observational learning (White 1998). The social learning theory contains for main processes including attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. Attention deals with the individual's ability to recognize changes in their environment. ("Observational (Social) Learning: An Overview") Retention is the process of the individual remembering what was recognized. ("Observational (Social) Learning: An Overview") Reproduction occurs when the individual duplicates the behavior that has been observed. ("Observational (Social) Learning: An Overview") Finally, motivation pertains to the issuing of a consequence that reduces the chance that the behavior will be duplicated. ("Observational (Social) Learning: An Overview")
A book entitled "An Introduction to Theories of Personality" Bandura noted that "
"Observational learning is vital for both development and survival. Because mistakes can produce costly or even fatal consequences, the prospects for survival would be slim indeed if one could learn only by suffering the consequences of trial and error" ... Bandura shares the belief of certain theorists (e.g., Fromm, Rogers) that human destructiveness is typically due to learning, notably observational learning, rather than to some innate instinct. Conversely, socially acceptable behavior is often learned by watching conformist models get along well with others -- as with the dictum "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" (Ewen 1998)
Social or observational learning has been essential in understanding how human beings learn. Bandura believed that the incorporation of observational learning into the fields of education and psychology would serve to benefit people. In the years since Bandura's findings concerning social learning, the theory has been used in many different capacities. For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on the impact of social learning on curriculum.
Impact of observational (social) learning on Curriculum
Observational learning has a profound impact upon the curriculum that is cultivated at many educational institutions. This impact can be seen from preschool to college. The impact of observational learning in curriculum design is easy to see in most classroom settings.
Among preschool students once can see the impact pf observational learning in the reading curriculum. According to an article found in Child Study Journal, social learning has influenced the way that preschoolers embrace reading. The article reports the impact of observational learning on the student's knowledge of the alphabet, attention to print, and use of a questioning technique (Horner 2001). The article explains that many social theorists have conducted studies that reveal the positive impact of observational learning in preschool and elementary school (Horner 2001). The author asserts that
"Rosenthal, Zimmerman, and their colleagues did a series of studies assessing preschool and elementary-aged children's performance of various rule-governed behaviors after being exposed to different teaching methods. In all studies, the modeling groups performed at a higher rate than the controls. These studies showed that preschool and elementary-aged children could learn abstract principles vicariously. Overall, modeling was shown to be more effective than instructions or reinforcement in inducing behavior changes (Horner 2001)."
This particular study initially sought to observe 36 preschoolers (Horner 2001). The article explains that the participants were from a day care center at a community college in New York City (Horner 2001). The study contained 19 boys and 17 girls. The age range was 3.3 to 5.2, with the average age being 4.3. In addition, the college serves mostly minority students and has a large concentration of immigrants (Horner 2001). Ten of the students were excluded from the study. The remaining 26 participants (13 boys and 13 girls) were observed during the study (Horner 2001).
In this particular case, the researchers examined the children through the use of alphabet books that were created by the researchers (Horner 2001). The article explains that both books contained five uppercase letters that were repeated five times (Horner 2001). The researchers limited the umber to five to reduce the quantity of new information to which the students were exposed (Horner 2001). The article explains, "Each letter was repeated five times to increase the amount of exposure per letter and to approximate the length of an alphabet book with all 26 letters (Horner 2001)." The students were then shown a video tape of an adult pointed to and read the letter then read the word while running her finger underneath them. After the child responded, the adult praised the child then repeated his response (Horner 2001). In addition, some of the students were shown a passive model, in which the child did not give a response to the adult in the videotape (Horner 2001).
The study found that observational learning did have a positive impact upon students and their ability to learn critical skills related to reading. The article asserts that "The results indicate that young children are able to extract a concept or rule (e.g., comment on print) through a brief exposure to observational learning. These results are of practical significance since many behaviors and concepts surrounding literacy, especially during the preschool years, are not taught explicitly (Horner 2001)." The researchers also found that the students that none of the students that were shown the passive model asked target questions (Horner 2001). On the contrary, those that viewed the other video asked questions. In addition, six of these students imitated the child model and two children asked questions 90% of the time (Horner 2001).
The preschool students in this study exhibited a better understanding of the alphabet when observational learning was incorporated into their learning experience. In addition, these students were more apt to answer questions if they had seen the behavior modeled (Horner 2001). This is indicative of prior research, which suggests children learn well in an environment, that incorporates observational learning into the curriculum.
Another article published in the journal Education & Treatment of Children explains that observational learning also has a positive impact on curriculum as it relates to students with learning disabilities. The article reports a study that reviewed the impact of two forms of constant-time-delay (CTD) on the observational learning of students with learning disabilities (Blackhurst et al., 2001). These students were part of a small-group instructional arrangement. The article reports that all the students were taught to read two individualized lists of content area vocabulary words (Blackhurst et al., 2001). The author explains "The target words of other students in the group served as the observational words for each student. An adapted alternating treatments design was used to compare the effects of the two instructional conditions on students' target words (Blackhurst et al., 2001)." The first condition was known as "Everybody Writes," during this condition all of the students were told to copy the target word on an erasable board prior to the target student answering (Blackhurst et al., 2001). The second condition was known as only "target student writes," in which only the target student copied the target word (Blackhurst et al., 2001). The results the study indicated "that both conditions were equally effective for learning target words, but the Everybody Writes condition was more effective in promoting observational reading of other students' target words (Blackhurst et al., 2001). The majority of the students scored within a range established by general education peers on measures of oral reading rate of observational words taught under the Everybody Writes condition (Blackhurst et al., 2001)."
Thoughts on the use of the theory in the 21st century schools
The research indicates that observational learning is an effective theory that encourages students to learn and acquire certain skills. Although a great deal of research was conducted about observational learning during the 1970 and 1980's, very little research has been conducted concerning its use in the 21st century. The two articles that were examined during this discussion indicate that it is still an effective theory. However, they failed to investigate observational learning with the incorporation of computer technologies.
While it is evident that the observational learning theory could be effective, it seems that the theory must contain some modern elements, such as software programs. Some educational software programs incorporate the principles of observational learning theory. However, little…