Social Learning Theory - Bandura

Paul Main

What could Bandura's Social Learning theory mean for our classrooms?

What is Albert Bandura's Social learning theory?

Albert Bandura's Social learning theory is based on the philosophy that individuals can learn through observing and imitating the observable behaviour of others. Psychologist Albert Bandura and Robert Sears proposed the social learning theory as an alternative to the previous work of fellow psychologist B.F. Skinner, was famous as a proponent of the behaviourist theory.

According to Social Learning Theorists both cognitive and environmental factors interact to affect observable behaviour and the learning process.

In cognitive theory, Alberty Bandura and Robert Sears agree with the behaviourist learning theories of operant conditioning and classical conditioning. But, he adds two significant evolution process ideas in human learning behaviours:

  1. In a human society, people learn behaviour from the environment through the observational learning process;
  2. Mediating processes take place between the stimulus and response.

Albert Bandura (1901–1994) was a psychologist who developed social learning theory. He studied children in order to understand how they learn from others. His studies showed that children imitate each other because they observe the actions of others and copy them. This process is called observational learning. Bandura was born in Poland in 1924. He earned his PhD at Harvard University in 1954, where he studied social psychology. His most famous work is Social Learning Theory, published in 1977.

Social learning theory explains human behaviour through observation and imitation. The theory states that humans learn socially, not just intellectually. This means we learn from our peers, parents, teachers, coaches, etc., rather than solely from books.

Bandura's theory is widely used in educational settings, including classrooms, colleges, universities, and businesses. It's also been applied to parenting, sports, politics, religion, and many other areas.

Bandura's work led him to develop the concept of self-efficacy, which means confidence in one's ability to perform a task. Self-efficacy influences behaviour, including learning. The more confident we feel about our abilities, the more likely we are to try new things.

What is Observational Learning?

Observational learning is a method of social cognition learning that includes knowledge acquisition through observing and modelling others' emotional expressions, attitudes or behaviour in human society. It is largely believed that the observer will copy the model. However, Bandura emphasized that rather than imitating, people may explicitly learn from the reinforcement behaviours of others. Observational learning is a significant component of Bandura’s social cognition theory. Badura's theory also argues that any form of observing and modelling human learning behaviours in a human society includes four essential conditions I.e. attention, motivation, reproduction, and retention.

What are the conditions for social learning?

  1. Attention

According to behavioural theories if people are learning anything from a knowledge acquisition model, they must be paying attention to the model's observable human learning behaviours. There are many reasons for disturbance in the observer’s attention. For instance, if the observer is distracted, ill, or sleepy, he may not learn the modelled behaviour and imitate it in his classroom model.

  1. Retention

According to social cognition theorists, the second condition of observational learning is to memorize the witnessed behaviour. If a student does not memorize the social behaviour, there are fewer chances of imitating in his classroom behaviour.

  1. Reproduction

According to Child behaviour and development theorists, it is a complex process which includes the mental and physical ability of the person to copy the observed behaviour while doing a physical task. For example, a child may see an adult basketball player put on a ball. Afterwards, when the kid has a basketball, he may try to put a ball like the adult player. But, the child's physical capabilities are not like that of the adult player, and, regardless of how many times he attempts, will not reach the basket to put the ball. A teenager or an adult may be able to put the ball but possibly only after a lot of practice.

  1. Motivation

According to Child behaviour and development theorists, motivational factors provide the most significant knowledge acquisition opportunities of observational learning. According to behavioural theories, if someone has no reason for the classroom model imitation, then no quantity of reproduction, retention, or attention will overcome the absence of motivational factors. According to Classical Theory, motivational factors such as emotional experience punishment and positive reinforcement play an important role in motivation. For instance, in a classroom model, if a student sees another student praised by the teacher for doing a physical task, the first child might start to engage in the same physical task too. Similarly, if the child knew that the other child was punished for making a mistake in the physical task, he would avoid that mistake in his task.

Banduras social learning theory explained
Banduras social learning theory explained

What are Mediational Processes?

According to Bandura's theories, a Mediational process is a complex evolution process of cognitive or mental situational factors that lie in the middle of stimulus and response. According to Social Learning Theorists, mediating factors affect whether students are exposed to direct experience of reinforcement behaviours, imitate them and how they show emotional reactions toward direct reinforcement.

The 4 mediational processes proposed by Bandura A. are attention (whether students notice the behaviour); retention (whether they memorize the Pro-Social Behavior); reproduction (whether they can perform the Pro-Social Behavior); and motivation (whether the perceived rewards exceed the perceived costs).

Mediation processes are basically ways to change behaviour. They're often used in social psychology experiments where researchers want to test whether changing attitudes leads to behavioural change.

For example, when Albert Bandura conducted his famous experiment, he wanted to find out whether changing children's beliefs would lead them to act differently toward others. He did this by having some children watch a video about a bully who was mean to another child. The children were told that the bully had been punished for being mean. Then, the children watched a second video showing the same bully bullying the same child again. After watching the videos, the children were asked questions about the bully's actions.

Bandura found that children who saw the video about punishment changed their beliefs about bullies, but didn't actually behave any better towards the bully. This means that changing children's beliefs doesn't necessarily lead to positive behaviour change. Instead, these findings suggest that changing children's beliefs may be useful for reducing negative behaviour, but not necessarily for increasing positive behaviour.

What was Albert Bandura's Famous Bobo Doll Experiment?

The controversial Bobo doll experiments were performed by Albert Bandura between 1961 and 1965. He used the popular Bobo doll to perform 3 separate social cognition experiments involving vicarious reinforcement of a topic of societal concern. In each experiment of vicarious reinforcement of society concern, he observed the impact of vicarious experience of aggressive cognition toward the doll on the behaviour of students who witnessed that aggressive behaviour.

In Bandura’s 1st experiment, students and an adult, who aggressively hit the doll, were present in the same room. In his second experiment, the children saw a video of society's concern on national television in which an adult demonstrated violent actions and antisocial behaviour toward the doll. In the third experiment, there were two groups of children instead of one, and each group saw that an adult was exhibiting aggressive cognition toward the Bobo doll on national television. However, Bandura changed the ending of the video for both groups.

One group of children watched a video of a social concern in which an adult got something to eat after demonstrating deviant behaviour toward the doll; whereas, the other group watched a video in which the adult was criticized for demonstrating aggressive behaviour toward the doll.

After the first two experiments, the students repeated the observed behaviour that they witnessed. But, the results were different for both groups in the third experiment. This time, the behaviour of students who watched the instructional model of aggressive cognition adult being rewarded, mimicked his aggressive actions; whereas, the students who watched the positive role models video in which the adult aggressor was being criticized for his aggression, developed fear in response to the video and did not demonstrate the same tendency to exhibit aggressive classroom behaviour in students.

The first comprehensive theory of social cognitive theory by Bandura is a theory aligned with behavioural theories but added imitation and modelling as a primary impetus for education, hence showing the observational learning concept to the world, a process of human agency in which children learn through observing emotional experience that others demonstrate.

Bandura revised his social cognitive theory in 1977 and added the concept of self-efficacy, a feeling of confidence in their ability to handle pressure from social factors. In 1986, Bandura again revised this social cognitive theory, combining aspects of classical and operant conditioning with Bandura's belief that verbal persuasion, vicarious experience, social factors, motor cognition and other cognitive factors have an impact on the behaviour of students and how humans show affinity toward people and learn. Proponents of the Contemporary learning theory perspective criticize Bandura's bobo doll experience.


What is the difference between social cognition theory and social learning theory?

Bandura's social cognition theory highlights the critical role of self-belief in reinforcement behaviours of human behaviour, cognition, and motivation.

According to book theories, there are various key differences between the two behavioural theories. Social cognition theory is a comprehensive theory that pays more attention to the idea of motor cognition and positive reinforcement. However, Social cognition theory focuses more on the role of Pro-Social Behavior motor cognition and cognitive processes.

Moral judgments in a classical theory, involve an evolution process of considering people by gender and weighing various gender development criteria in a gendered society. For social learning theory, gender development, gendered society issues, and gender knowledge have to do with the association of numerous social factors.

Banduras theory of observational learning
Banduras theory of observational learning

Do animal behaviours demonstrate social learning?

Animal behaviours change due to direct experience of social learning too. For example, when the primates observe other primates cracking nuts using a hammer, their mirror neuron systems get activated, and the mirror neurons of primates serve as a guide for action that helps them learn to crack the nuts using a hammer. Nevertheless, when they are not presented with such an opportunity that can activate their grey matter, their mirror neuron systems do not activate, and learning does not occur.

The Human Mirror neuron system is not only vital for animal behaviours it is also vital for the human learning process. The Human Mirror neuron system is activated while observing other persons performing a physical task. The mirror neuron systems activation is considered to be critical for goal-directed observable behaviours.

Why was Bandura's Social Learning Theory criticized?

Child behaviour and development theorists criticized Bandura's classical theory, arguing that it ignores autonomic nervous system responses and biological factors. According to book theories, some behaviours, like affinity toward people and responses, are partly inherited, not only learned.

Proponents of the Contemporary learning theory perspective criticize Albert Bandura's Bobo doll experiment for being too artificial.

Some critics of Child behaviour and development theories thought that if an adult model demonstrated violent behaviour toward a doll, others might not repeat that criminal behaviour; or that they were manipulated into demonstrating the aggressive classroom behaviour; or that children were not showing aggressive classroom behaviour, they were only playing with the doll.

Proponents of the Contemporary learning theory perspective criticize Bandura's emotional experience of violent behaviour acquisition using national television. Regarding the effects of television violence, some studies claim that the effects of television violence can be observed in children. Effects of television violence and other situational factors may increase the affinity toward people and decrease the occurrence of antisocial behaviour and criminal behaviour since young children may relate themselves to characters involved in deviant behaviour and release their criminal behaviour and aggressive thoughts.