Social Learning Theory Learning Theory essay

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Firstly, there is exposure to a model, which however does not necessarily facilitate learning. This is followed by knowledge of the model's behavior and the results of that behavior and finally the acceptance or rejection of the model by the individual as a guide to his or her actions (Weiner, 1980, p. 230). In this regard one can refer back as well to the work of Tarde who suggested that "society is imitation" (Jackson, 1988, p. 16).

The work of Bandura should be expanded on in this regard. One of the most well-known illustrations of the importance of observation in the learning process is Bandura's 'Bobo Doll' experiment. In this study a group of children were shown short films which depicted various aggressive responses to toys -- including the hitting of a Bobo doll. The experiment was conducted according to three determined conditions. In the first condition a child actor in the film was rewarded for his behavior by an adult. In the second condition a child in the film was punished for his aggressive action and thirdly, a film was shown which was devoid of adult reinforcement (Weiner, 1980, p. 231)

The results indicated the importance of observation and imitation in the learning process. The children who observed the films were placed in a room and their actions were observed and recorded. The recorded data of their actions revealed that the children who had viewed the film in which the child was rewarded for his actions were "… most likely to repeat his behavior"; whereas the children who had seen the child being punished in the film were least likely to imitate the behavior (Weiner, 1980, p. 231).) Subsequently, it also was demonstrated that "…the children in the three conditions could equally well reproduce the model's behavior when requested to do so by the experimenter (Weiner, 1980, p. 231). Bandirua used the results of the experiment to assert that there was a connection between violence in the media and film and learned responses, which increased aggression in young children.

This also relates to the important issue of knowledge in the literature. Many social cognitive theorists have contended that people "…can acquire knowledge, skills, strategies, beliefs, and attitudes by observing and imitating models" and that models "…are influential in observational learning. Students' persistence in academic tasks can be expected to increase when they are presented with a persistent model (Lan & Repman, 1995, p. 55).

Another central theorist who should be mentioned as part of the overview of the literature is Julian Rotter. Rotter suggests the importance of the connection between imitation and motivation in social learning. He asserts that "…the effect of behaviour has an impact on the motivation of people to engage in that specific behavior" (Weiner, 1980, p. 231). In essence, his theory of social learning strongly suggests the importance of environmental factors that influence the learning process and which should be taken into account in conjunction with psychological factors.

In theoretical terms Bandura expanded on the work of Rotter and he incorporated aspects of both behavioral theory and cognitive learning. His social theory combines environmental as well as psychological factors which are seen to influence human behavior. In this regard the importance of the concept of self-efficacy should be noted. Self-efficacy refers to the way that the individual perceives his or her self-worth and abilities. Central to Bandura's argument in this book Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory ( 1986) was the view that, "…how individuals feel about their intellectual experiences influences how much control they will have over their feelings in relation to the experience, their overall thoughts of the experience…" ( Kolata) Bandura also argued that the way that individuals relates to their intellectual experiences will also determine the extent to which they will take on challenging tasks and projects in the future. In essence he states that self-directed beliefs and the way that the individual perceives his or her intellect will have a profound effect on the way that they learn and deal with tasks.

4. Critiques of social learning theory

One of the central and most often repeated critiques of the various theories of social learning is that it does not take sufficient cognizance of individuality and personal experience in the learning process. In essence this also refers to the emphasis on social and interactive components of learning in social theory and the relatively small amount of attention given to aspects such as genetics and biological factors in the learning process.

Many critics also claim that social learning theory seems to suggest that learners are passive and merely receptacles of sensory input and seem to play no active role in the learning process. Another central concern that many scholars express is that social learning theory seems to neglect aspects such as emotions and feelings and does not consider these as important in the learning process (Laliberte M. 2005).

While social theory focuses on the aspects of observation, imitation and the influence of the environment, biological theories of learning stress the biological state of the individual and the role that this plays in the learning process. Therefore, from this perspective social learning theory tends to be one -- sided in its emphasis on the social.

Another criticism leveled at social learning theory is that "…social learning theory rejects the differences of individuals due to genetic, brain, and learning differences" (Jeffery, 1990, p.238). This is explained by Jefferey as follows. "The biological preparedness of the individual to learn as well as the role of the brain in processing information from the social environment, are critical to learning theory, but they are ignored by the social learning theory" (Jeffery, 1990, p.238).

These and other critics tend to suggest certain gaps in the theory of social learning that in turn indicates that this theory is not entirely comprehensive and that it could possibly be augmented by other perspectives and views. However, many social learning theorists contend that their theoretical framework does have a place for these issues. The general reply of social learning theorists to these criticisms is clearly stated by Thompson and Fine, (1999) as follows: "This approach to socially shared understanding is not antagonistic toward the analysis of individual-level processes but rather maintains that individual-level processes are necessary but not sufficient to build a social psychology of shared understanding" (Thompson & Fine, 1999, p. 278).

5. Conclusion

Social learning theory has provided a valuable and much needed contemporary platform for the understanding and analysis of the phenomenon of learning in education. The analysis of the learning processes in relation to environment and context and to the concepts of observation, modeling and reward have served to expand our understanding of the way that human beings learn.

This theory has enormous implications for education and teaching. The realization of the importance of observation and imitation in the learning process has enabled educators to develop methods and protocols to assist learners; for example it has been found that aspects of modeling can provide a faster and more effective way of teaching new behaviors (Social Learning Theory from notes on Ormond's Human Learning).

Furthermore, pundits contend that, "Contemporary views of learning and their pedagogical applications, including student-centred learning activities and collaborative working modes, are changing the traditional interaction patterns of many classrooms and affecting the roles of teachers and students as communicators and learners" (Kumpulainen & Wray, 2002, p. 3). In other words, social learning theory has been instrumental in creating a more productive working and learning environment. The debate about the pros and cons of this theory however continue and further research needs to be undertaken to aspects of contextual and social learning and how these theories and methods affect the classroom and teaching situation.


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Barkley, J.M. (2006). Reading Education: Is Self-Efficacy Important?. Reading

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Brownfield, D. (1991). Attachment to Peers and Delinquent Behaviour. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 33(1), 45-60.

Davis, M.M. (1909). Psychological Interpretations of Society. New York: Columbia University. Retrieved September 11, 2009, from Questia database:

Domitrovich, C.E., & Bierman, K.L. (2001). Parenting Practices and Child Social Adjustment: Multiple Pathways of Influence. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 47(2), 235. Retrieved September 11, 2009, from Questia database:

Halloran, E.C., Doumas, D.M., John, R.S., & Margolin, G. (1999). The Relationship between Aggression in Children and Locus of Control Beliefs. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 160(1), 5-21. Retrieved September 11, 2009, from Questia database:

Hogben, M., & Dyrne, D. (1998). Using Social Learning Theory to Explain Individual Differences in Human Sexuality. The Journal of Sex Research, 35(1), 58+. Retrieved September 11, 2009, from Questia database:

Hunsberger, B.E. (1983). Apostasy: a Social Learning Perspective. Review of Religious Research, 25(1), 21-38. Retrieved September 11, 2009, from…[continue]

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