The Social Learning Theory

Explain social learning theory. What are the implications of this theory for child
development?

The Social Learning Theory

This theory proposed by Albert Bandura has made its presence prominent and is perhaps
one of the most influential theories of learning and development. Although it has its roots in
most of the basic concepts found in traditional learning theory, Bandura had a strong belief that
direction reinforcement alone was not capable of accounting for the different types of learning
(Howorth, Smith & Parkinson, 2012). This is why, in his theory of social learning, a social
element was added. This argued that an individual was capable of learning new information and
behavior by simply watching others. This is referred to as observational learning, and it can be
used to explain a wide range of behavior portrayed by many people.
Basic Concepts of Social Learning Theory

This theory has three core concepts. First, there is an idea that people can learn by means
of observation. Second, there is another idea that internal mental states are very important part of
the process (O’Fallon & Butterfield, 2012). Third, this theory also acknowledges the fact that just
because a new point has been learned; it does not necessarily result in behavioral changes.
Observational Learning
The famous Bobo doll experiment is a clear demonstration that children learn and imitate
behavior they observe in the grownups around them (Lam, Kraus & Ahearne, 2010). From this
experiment, three models of observational learning were identified (Kauppinen & Juho, 2012):

SOCIAL LEARNING THEORY 2
One, a live model, which features a real individual acting out a specified behavior. Two, a verbal
instructional model, which features the descriptions of the behavior. Three, a symbolic model,
which features both real and fictional characters displaying behaviors in different forms of
media.
Intrinsic Reinforcement
As Bandura noted, external reinforcement was not the only factor that influenced learning
and behavior. His description of intrinsic reinforcement was that it is a form of internal reward,
for example pride, satisfaction, or a sense of accomplishment. This helps connect learning
theories to cognitive development theories. This is why Bandura describes his approach as a
‘social cognitive theory’ (Daly, Roberts, Kumar & Perkins, 2013).
Learning does not necessarily lead to a change in behavior.
Although behaviorists from the past believed that learning led to permanent change in
behavior, this observational learning showed that individuals can learn without actually
demonstrating the new behaviors (O’Fallon & Butterfield, 2012). This is attributed to the fact
that not all observed behaviors are learned effectively. Factors revolving around the model and
the learner are what determine whether social learning will be successful. For example, if the
learner does not pay attention, then the result will be negative. If the learner does not have the
ability to store information after observation, they are less likely to put them to action.

Implications of this Theory for Child Development

Children develop rapidly and are able to learn and adopt new behaviors within a short
timeframe. This theory proves that children can learn new things by watching the people around

SOCIAL LEARNING THEORY 3
them. This is why the background in which a child is brought up in will determine how he or she
behaves. If the people around the child are accustomed to using bad language, then the child
observes this and uses it in a similar situation. Therefore, it is important to protect the child
development process by ensuring that children are only exposed to interesting and productive
environments and people. This will ensure that the development process is also positive and
healthy for the child.

SOCIAL LEARNING THEORY 4

References

Daly, M., Roberts, C., Kumar, K., & Perkins, D. (2013). Longitudinal integrated rural
placements: a social learning systems perspective. Medical Education, 47(4), 352-361.
doi:10.1111/medu.12097
Howorth, C., Smith, S. M., & Parkinson, C. (2012). Social Learning and Social Entrepreneurship
Education. Academy Of Management Learning & Education, 11(3), 371-389.
Kauppinen, A., & Juho, A. (2012). Internationalisation of SMEs from the perspective of social
learning theory. Journal Of International Entrepreneurship, 10(3), 200-231.
doi:10.1007/s10843-012-0093-6
Lam, S. K., Kraus, F., & Ahearne, M. (2010). The Diffusion of Market Orientation Throughout
the Organization: A Social Learning Theory Perspective. Journal Of Marketing, 74(5),
61-79. doi:10.1509/jmkg.74.5.61
O’Fallon, M., & Butterfield, K. (2012). The Influence of Unethical Peer Behavior on Observers’
Unethical Behavior: A Social Cognitive Perspective. Journal Of Business Ethics, 109(2),
117-131. doi:10.1007/s10551-011-1111-7

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