Social Cognitive Learning Theory
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Social cognitive learning theory was first introduced to us in 1941 by Miller and Dollard and was expanded by Albert Bandura in 1963 (University of Twente, 2004). Bandura has become well known for his work on this theory worldwide. Ironically, he had never intended to study psychology. He decided to take a psychology course as a way to pass the time and became fascinated by the subject. He began studying with Robert Sears in social cognitive learning theory, and the rest is history (Crain, 2005, p. 198). The theory is based on the idea that people can become self-regulated learners through the triadic reciprocal causation model, observational learning, and self-efficacy (Davin, 2008).
Triadic Reciprocal Causation Model
Social cognitive learning theory believes that learners have three factors that continuously influence their learning (Davin, 2008). The first factor is personal characteristics. This includes one's physical ability, such as being able to hold scissors (University of Twente, 2004). If someone were unable to hold scissors correctly, then he would not be able to learn to cut paper. University of Twente also stated that personal characteristics include cognitive abilities and biological events (2004). The second factor is behavior patterns (Davin, 2008). This refers to one's knowledge of a subject as well as their attention span. Dr. Davin noted that if a person were unable to pay attention, they would be unable to retain vital information (2008). The third factor is the social environment. The environment provides "opportunities and social support" to a learner (University of Twente, 2004). These three factors work together constantly and aid in producing a self-regulated learner.
Social cognitive learning theory states that one learns mainly through following a model. The University of Twente describes it as, "behavioral acquisition that occurs by watching the actions and outcomes of others' behaviors" (2004). This observational learning consists of four components: attention processes, retention processes, motor reproduction processes, and reinforcement and motivation processes (Crain, 2005, p.199). In order to attain the attention processes, you simply have to be able to pay attention. This ability is governed by one's psychological characteristics (Crain, 2005, p. 199). The retention processes require the ability to not only remember but to reproduce a model. People generally store both visual images and verbal codes to aid in retention (Crain, 2005, pp. 199-200). Motor reproduction processes are attained with physical growth and practice. This occurs when one possesses the motor skills to reproduce a given task (Crain, 2005, p. 200).
Reinforcement and motivation processes are the reasons we perform a task. According to Crain, reinforcements can either be direct, vicarious, or self-regulated (2005, pp.200-201). One can be influenced to perform a task if he has been praised directly by someone else, or if he has seen another person be praised for the act. He may also want to perform a task if he feels he has done well. Reinforcement may also have a negative effect on children. Aggression could be reinforced if the child receives a reward when he acts in an aggressive manner (Crain, 2005, p. 202). However, Crain also states that model can inhibit an undesirable behavior through reward and punishment (2005, p.203).
Bandura began exploring the role of self-efficacy as a mode of reinforcement and motivation in 1977 (University of Twente, 2004). This mode is a form of self-observation that either encourages or discourages someone to attempt a given task (Crain, 2005, p. 206). If one feels as if he is good at a given task, such as tennis, then he will be more likely to continue to practice the sport. However, if he feels he is poor at music, he will most likely not want to continue to practice an instrument. Crain discusses four "sources of self-efficacy appraisals": actual performance, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological cues (2005, pp. 207-208).
Actual performance is cited by Crain as being the most influential form of self-efficacy (2005, p.207). If we consistently do well with a specific skill, we will continue to practice it. Vicarious experiences work in the opposite manner. If we see someone else do well with a skill, we are more likely to attempt it. Verbal persuasion is also referred to as "pep talks" (Crain, 2005, p.207). We, or others, can verbally convince us that we are good at a task. Physiological cues are our body's way of telling us if whether or not we are successful at a task. If my hands sweat every time I look at algebra, then my body is telling me I am not very good at it.
Importance and Integration of the Theory
Social Cognitive Learning Theory has been widely used in the educational setting. Since the theory asserts that one learns through observation, it only makes sense that a teacher would choose to use this theory in his classroom. A teacher is essentially a model for learning and behavior. He can provide the necessary social environment for exploration as well as the practice to acquire necessary motor skills and personal characteristics.
There are several ways to integrate this theory into the classroom. One is for the teacher to use himself as a model. He can model desired behaviors such as using manners or problem solving. Eggen & Kauchak also states that a teacher can model effort, persistence, and positive reinforcements (2008).
A teacher can also make use of the students themselves as models. High functioning students can be paired with low functioning students in an attempt to model procedures. A low functioning student may also participate in vicarious self-efficacy by watching his classmate do well with a difficult task.
A final way to integrate this theory into the classroom would be to grade a student on progress, not pre-set standards (Crain, 2005, p. 214). If a child is allowed to set his own goals and can achieve them, he will be more likely to attempt an even more difficult task. However, if a goal is set that will never be in that child's reach, he will be more likely to stop trying at all.
Social cognitive learning theory strives to meet the needs of each individual at his own level. It provides a basis of self-worth, as well as the ability to take a risk. If we as educators can remember that children look to us to decide what is valuable, then we will also develop a feeling of accomplishment. We will realize that we are aiding in the development of a child's self-esteem. By providing them with a basis of self-set goals, along with a mode of monitoring and assessing those goals, we will create a self-regulated learner (Eggen & Kauchak, 2008).
Crain, W. (2005). Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
Davin, A. (2008). Lecture on Social Cognitive Learning Theory. Presented on February 12, 2008. EC 540. Oakland University.
Eggen, P., & Kauchak, D. (2008). Education Psychology: Windows on Classrooms 6thEdition. Retrieved February 28, 2008, from the World Wide Web: http://wps.prenhall.com/chet_eggen_education_6/13/3455/884633.cw/index.html
University of Twente. (2004). Social Cognitive Theory. Retrieved February 28, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://www.tcw.utwente.nl/theorieenoverzicht/Theory%20clusters/Health 20Communication/Social_cognitive_theory.doc/