What Is Social Learning - What Does It Mean?

Designing Digitally


Social Learning

The Social Learning Theory (SLT) was theorized and created by Albert Bandura. It is an influential learning theory that envelopes the fundamental concepts of learning. Bandura has explained the viability of classical and operant conditioning while adding two highly critical concepts; the idea of mediating processes that take form via stimuli and responses; behavior is achieved from the learning environment via the observational principles of learning. 

Social Learning Theory provides compelling reasoning to support the fact that various types of learning do not encompass direct reinforcement as a traditional mechanism. The nameless social system can indeed provide individuals with new learning principles.  

The SLT has been widely successful in identifying how individuals can learn and adapt to different behaviors by observing the people around them. 

This is where a viable assumption takes birth, which is that the Social Learning Theory is primarily focused on the observational principles in learning among individuals

The SLT – Two Important Concepts

Observational Learning

There is no question that children learn new skills by watching the people around them. They see the behavior of others   and try to mimic it as best as they can. People whose behavior(s) are observed are known as models. Children look up to their parents as their models, they look at cartoon characters as models, their teachers, friends at schools, their peers, etc. The societal models become their source of learning – they become behavioral examples to imitate. For example, feminine and masculine or pro-social and anti-social are types of behaviors children emulate. 

Children closely focus on the behavior of these models and embed their behavior. And some time later, they  try to imitate what they have seen. A child may imitate a task they observe a parent doing, such as cooking a meal. By imitating the task, the child is participating in observational learning.   

Children are more likely to copy someone they consider the same as themselves. As a result, a child  is  likely to mimic the behavior of other children.  For instance, a child is more likely to imitate the actions of another child building with blocks or playing with a doll.   

Moreover, the models around the child will either reciprocate his behavior by inflicting a penalty or through positive or negative reinforcement. So, if a child imitates another child  and the outcome is deemed rewarding, he will continue to carry on imitating them. A parent can reinforce this behavior in  children by saying kind words or a few phrases of praise. 

Meditational Analysis

The Social Learning Theory is  described as a revolutionary link between cognitive elements and behaviorism (traditional learning).  Why? Well, that is because it emphasizes  how psychological influencers play a sizeable role in learning.  Bandura is of a strong notion that human beings are walking and talking processors that focus on the consequences or outcome of their behavior. Observational learning amounts to nothing without cognitive functionality. The mental aspects of behavioral learning mediate or alter the course of learning to identify if a new response can be garnered or not. 

In simpler words, people do not instinctively observe how their models behave and copy them. They first put in some thought before imitating them, and this is known as mediational processes. Mediational elements surface between analyzing an individual’s behavior and then making a decision  whether or not imitate it. 

Bandura’s 4 Mediational Processes

  1. Attention – The limit to which people notice the behavior or are exposed to it. For a behavior to be copied, it has to  influence our attention. Human beings observe a plethora of behaviors in their everyday lives, a majority of which are not intentionally and unintentionally considered noteworthy. Attention is a key element in determining whether or not a behavior is imitable. 
  2. Retention – This is how well a behavior is remembered. It is important to understand that a behavior may be noticed or seen, however,  it isn't remembered all the time. This makes imitating that behavior impossible.  Retaining the memory of a behavior is therefore important in order to be performed at a later stage. 
  3. Reproduction – This is the aptitude or capability to execute a particular behavior that has been  remembered  or if it has just been demonstrated by a model. People see a lot of behavior on a continual basis, which they would like to imitate but can’t. A physical inability to copy a particular behavior –  is why it will be impossible to reproduce it. 
  4. Motivation – This is the will and ability to copy a behavior. The individual will weigh the possible rewards and punishment of imitating a behavior. If the imagined rewards of imitating a behavior are more than the costs of the outcome, the behavior can and will be successfully imitated and vice-versa. 

An Evaluation

The SLT should not be considered as finality in explaining societal behavior. The science of social learning cannot be applied on an individual who has not grown up with role models or who does not have someone to imitate. However, the Social Learning Theory does provide a comprehensive set of tools to improving organizational behavior – enabling people to learn from one another. Combining SLT with technological innovations has led to several improvements in behavior- sparking a will to compete with people with similar interests. 

The SLT can be applied in online learning conveniently. The methods and goals for online learning are the same as conventional learning, and aspects of the theory, such as attention and imitation can be incorporated directly. For instance, in simulation training, the participants are expected to imitate what is being shown to them, and this is where social learning can come in handy. Similarly, offering rewards for completing a simulation can act as a source of motivation.