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The adoption of the social learning theory in education

Over the years, different learning theories have been developed and adopted by learners to acquire knowledge.

But what are learning theories?

Learning theories are defined as abstract frameworks that outline how concepts are received and processed during the learning process. During this method, cognitive, emotional and environmental factors influence the ways people acquire knowledge and see the world. There are different types of learning theories.

In this post, we focus on social learning theory, providing a definition, and outlining how it works and how it is used in education.

What is social learning theory?

Social learning theory is a method developed by Albert Bandura in 1977 that outlines how people learn through the observation of other individuals’ behaviours, attitudes and emotions. This theory explains how individuals are constantly interacting with others and their own cognitive, behavioural and environmental aspects.

Social learning theory consists of four stages of learning:

  • Attention – People have to be focused on the task to learn something. Attention might be generated by something new or not common, typical of social contexts.
  • Retention – Individuals acquire knowledge by internalising information in their memories. They recall that information later when they need to respond to a specific situation that is similar to the one where they first learned the information.
  • Reproduction – People are used to reproducing the previously learned information when required by the context.
  • Motivation – Individuals need to be motivated to do something. This motivation is often generated by the observation of someone else.

The whole of Bandura’s learning theory is focused on observational learning, meaning that people’s behaviours are developed through the observation of other individuals’ attitudes. This explains how children quickly learn from people around them, by imitating these actions. In his study, Bandura formulates three models of observational learning: a live model where the person is performing a behaviour; a verbal instruction model, in which the person explains the details of the behaviour; and the symbolic model where a character explains the behaviour through movies, books or online media.

Also, this learning theory affirms that not only can external factors effect a person’s learning process and behaviours, but also internal aspects such as confidence and satisfaction.

Why is the social learning theory adopted in education?

Nowadays, different educators have started using the social learning theory in the classroom as students can benefit from it. The main advantages include:

  • Enhanced attitude – Observational learning improves student behaviour. For example, if an educator shows compassion in the classroom, the learner will automatically develop this attitude in them. This way, the social learning theory helps enhance a positive attitude in learners.
  • Improve creativity – Research proved that observing learning is a good way to enhance learner creativity that is encouraged in developing innovative ideas through the observation of their peers.
  • Enhance memory – Through observational learning, students can improve their memory as they are exposed to different types of information that they need to retain.
  • Improve their knowledge – The social learning theory permits students to enhance their knowledge through inquisition and imitations. Through the acquisition of new information, students are able to develop some skills they can use in other contexts and subjects.

The social learning theory created by Bandura is a learning methodology based on observational learning. The adoption of this learning method in the classroom has permitted students to develop new skills along with enhancing their memory and creativity.

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