Social Learning Theory: Principles and Applications

In this blog, we explore how understanding and applying the Social Learning Theory can boost Learning & Development and training courses.

In his work examining the philosophy of human affairs, “Politics,” Aristotle writes, “man is by nature a social animal…Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.” Humans are intrinsically social, and Aristotle’s indictment on those who do not feel the need to be social aside, there is a lot that we can learn from the human desire to be in communion with others.

Sociability aids humans in communication; forming thoughts, behaviors, and opinions; and even physiology. Think about how easily you adopt the mannerisms of people you find yourself in frequent contact with — you adopt their slang, their intonation, and even sometimes their body language. We learn and develop from the people we surround ourselves with.

Albert Bandura, a social psychologist, developed a theory surrounding this type of collaborative learning. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory posits that learning is impacted by our environments and the interactions that we have. This learning theory, which is also known as observational learning, focuses on how humans can learn through observation and imitation.

To better understand the Social Learning Theory, let’s reduce the theory to its four main pillars:

1.  Attention

It is difficult to learn if you are not focused on the task at hand. We typically lose attention if we do not believe that the materials at hand can present new, novel information or if they do not seem to benefit us in any way. Bandura’s theory suggests that learners can also maintain focus within group contexts, e.g., if the group is focused, the individual is focused.

2. Retention

Learning takes place when we can collect and recall information. To be able to perform an action or recall information, a learner must have a memory of that act or information. Without retention, the memory of that action or information is lost. Learners can collect this information via observation of others; it does not always have to be self-taught.

3. Reproduction

There’s a Latin proverb, repetitio est mater studiorum (repetition is the mother of learning), which speaks to this pillar of Bandura’s theory. We reproduce previously learned behaviors, knowledge, and skills when it is required of us, and repetition of these things allows us to master them cognitively.

4. Motivation

Simply put, motivation drives action. If we observe the actions of others and recognize how they are rewarded or punished for their actions, we are motivated to imitate them or do differently.

So how can these pillars be applied to Learning & Development and training courses?

A simple way to incorporate the principles of the Social Learning Theory into your training courses is to run an audit of your current training course alongside the Social Learning Theory. For example:

  • ATTENTION: Is the training conducted within a group? Should it be conducted within a group? Does the training hold the collective attention of the group?
  • RETENTION: What aspects of the training are memorable? Are learners having a difficult time retaining information?
  • REPRODUCTION: Can learners act out the learning objectives? Can learners observe and reproduce the desired act or provide the desired information?
  • MOTIVATION: Are learners being recognized/awarded for their successes and corrected for their missteps?

If your training courses or L&D programs are falling short in these areas, implementing group sessions and discussions can help enact the Social Learning Theory and level-up your training. Group focus can promote good learning habits for individuals. In addition to group sessions, offering mentorship programs is another way for employees to learn by example.

Another great way to incorporate the principles of the Social Learning Theory in your training courses is gamified eLearning. Gamified eLearning courses not only provide motivation but also can offer a group feel. For example, if your gamified eLearning courses offer leaderboards, you can leverage competition as motivation. Or if your eLeaning offers the ability for learners to observe other players/employees, learners can benefit from learning how other employees solved a problem..

If you would like to know more about how you can boost your training courses, click here to get in contact with one of our experts.

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