Social learning theory examples in the classroom

Ask any teacher who has dealt with young learners, and they will tell you that kids love to imitate each other and their role models. Kids also learn better and retain knowledge if they’re actively involved in the teaching process.

So, what does that tell us about them?

Kids are social learners. And continuous theorizing on the way we learn has yielded plenty of social learning theory examples in the classroom.

That’s why at Mark in Style, we decided to dig deep into social learning theory, its principles, and its applicability in the classroom.

What Is Social Learning Theory?

Before we look into some examples of social learning theory in the classroom, let’s first understand what this theory is all about.
Social learning theory puts together cognitive and behavioural approaches to the learning experience. It argues that children learn from role models’ actions by observing whether a rewarded or punished.

One of the most basic social learning theory examples in the classroom would be establishing a dialogue between two students representing opposing perspectives and rewarding the positive aspects while censuring the negative ones. Learners generally observe social models and imitate positive behaviour while rejecting aggressive or risky actions.

So, how did it all start?

As is often the case, with one visionary.

Hailing from a developmental chain of social learning theorists, Albert Bandura presented his theory that human beings learn in a social environment by imitating or avoiding select behaviours based on the reinforcements such behaviours earned.
Additionally, Bandura stressed the active learners play in the social environment. This means that each learner actively chooses which behaviours to accept and which to reject, thereby influencing the social system that was the influencer.

Too complicated?

Let’s try to understand this last bit with an example:

If a child plays too many violent video games and influences their friends to play them too, the friends and the games themselves compel the child to play them excessively.

That being said, let’s track the historical development of Bandura’s social learning theory:

In the 1940s, BF Skinner theorised on the linguistic and cognitive capabilities of infants who engaged in echoic responses of speech heard from their parents. When legitimised by their parents, these responses gave way to coherent speech. This method of reinforcement resulting in coherence became the basis of the social-learning perspective.

So, the two psychological concepts in Skinner’s behaviourism are:

Now:

Bandura agreed with the behavioural theories suggesting that human behaviour is ordered by classical and operant conditioning. But he added two more observations to it:

  • Some cognitive processes exist between stimuli and responses. 
  • Humans learn behaviours through observation. 

Key Principles of the Theory

Learning is a cognitive process

Humans don’t respond to stimuli blindly. Human behaviour operates in a social environment where every action is the result of an informed choice.  

Humans learn from two kinds of reinforcements

Direct Reinforcement involves experiencing the consequences of an action.

Vicarious Reinforcement involves observing the consequences of other peoples’ actions without active participation.

Modelling

Observational learning theory says that observing, collecting information from those observations, and deciding how to repeat the behaviour is all part of learning. This means that learning can occur without a visible change in behaviour.

Reinforcement is not solely responsible for learning 

Other factors like the social context and observation also play important roles. Therefore, learning is an outcome of multiple influences. 

Reciprocal Determinism

Humans are not passive participants in the learning process. They engage in the process actively, think about their actions, and make decisions. Additionally, just as the social environment exerts an influence on a learner, the learner also influences their surroundings.

How did Bandura illustrate these principles of the social learning model? With the Bobo Doll Experiment in 1961.

Here’s the scoop:

In the experiment, children witnessed adults being aggressive to a Bobo doll. The experiment revealed differential results for male and female adults (live models) and substantiated Bandura’s theory.

You can check out the Bobo Doll Experiment on YouTube here

In the first instance, the aggression on the doll was physical, while in the second, it was verbal. The third instance recorded hitting the doll with a mallet. The final instance recorded novel behaviours or modes of violence the children showed that were not imitative of the role models’ actions. 

The result:

The Bobo Doll Experiment proved that children could learn social behaviours like violence through observation learning, which involves studying another person’s behaviour. 

What’s more, youngsters learned by watching the outcomes (punishment or reward) of others’ actions. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, published in 1977, builds on these observations. Bandura emphasised three types of modelling that can benefit teachers when they implement social learning theory examples in the classroom

They are: 

Live Models

The most traditional form of social learning theory modelling. An example in the classroom involves a teacher demonstrating to the pupils how to conduct a science experiment. 

Verbal Instruction

In this mode, learners are not shown the action that they’re meant to replicate. Instead, they are verbally instructed on how to behave. In a classroom, the teacher may explain how to accomplish a particular task, like, writing an argumentative essay.

Symbolic Modelling

There is no direct interaction between learners and models in this mode. Instead, learners imitate behaviour from various representations in media, such as books, films, and games. 

Key Elements of the Social Learning Model

The road from observation to behaviour is composed of multiple influences and interactions with the social environment. The main aspects of the learning process are:

Attention 

First of all, in order to learn, people must pay attention to the behaviour that will get modelled. The observer’s abilities (sensory abilities, mental abilities, arousal, past performance) and the action (perceptual abilities, cognitive abilities, arousal, past performance) influence attention. Social factors influence engagement in this way.

Retention 

Upon witnessing a specific behaviour, people must remember the details of the action as well as what they’re learning. Since some people have learning skills that help them retain information or intrinsic cognitive abilities that boost their capacity to keep details, a person’s personality traits may also have an impact on their ability to retain information.

Reproduction 

Reproduction is an integral part of the social learning approach. Instructors can demonstrate a model, but learners need to replicate what they’ve seen. It may be easier or harder to repeat the task depending on what it is. Additionally, details of particular behaviours may be more challenging to observe and imitate. Certain sports activities, for example, may be harder because it is difficult to spot every element a coach is trying to teach.

Motivation 

People decide whether or not to repeat anything they’ve learnt depending on a combination of the expected outcome and their own internal motivation. More motivated learners are more likely to repeat an activity and enhance their capacity to do so in the future.

Benefits of Social Learning Theory in the Classroom 

What sets social cognitive learning theory apart from the host of other learning theory examples?

The answer lies in the various advantages of this theory in educating young learners:

Natural and Organic 

The most significant benefit of social learning is that it is something that everyone does on a daily basis, both consciously and unconsciously. It is not necessary to plan ahead of time or set up a time for it because it occurs naturally. 

In the classroom, this means that we observe our peers and notice what they do and how they do it. When a student is rewarded for their work or wins a bonus, other employees examine the actions that lead to the outcome in an attempt to achieve the same effect.

Collaborative Learning

In the social learning approach, teachers can improve their students’ productivity and skills by encouraging them to share their views, ideas, experiences, and best practices.

Higher Retention

According to research, we only recall 10% of what we learn in formal learning environments, with the remaining 90% coming from informal and social learning environments. We remember elements like voice pitch, visuals, experiences, or even a joke that we identify with learning content. So, learning something directly from a person helps us remember it better.

Increased Engagement among Learners

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. By praising good practices or academic performances, teachers can drive student participation. 

Developing Organisational Skills

When educators organise social learning activities in the classroom, they essentially help kids imbibe self-organisation skills.

The thing is:

By acting as models for behaviour and observing other live models, children learn to organise their thoughts and become articulate learners. 

How Does Bandura’s Theory Influence Current Practice?

The widespread significance of modelling is already standard, decades after Bandura’s social learning theory first made headlines. 

Modelling, according to Bandura, is the knowledge that is cognitively processed through symbolic operations rather than imitative responses or simple deeds. 

Subsequent development in the field has delved into the study of therapeutic modelling to treat phobias as well as to teach valuable adjustment skills. Educators use the theory of social learning because it focuses on producing engaged learners who can reproduce what they’ve learnt. 

Lately, teachers have been focusing more on incorporating social learning theory examples in the classroom. As a result, classrooms have changed structurally.

If you’re an educator and you’re wondering how to apply social learning theory, we have some ideas:

Flipped Classroom

A novel approach to teaching, this method involves a shift in the roles between a teacher and a student. What do we mean by this?

In simple words, in the Flipped Classrooms social learning style of instruction that involves blended learning, students are given reading materials before they enter the classroom. Outside of the classroom, they must acquaint themselves with the material. After that, teachers clarify doubts and assist students in replicating and practising what they’ve learnt. This can be done by way of activities and assignments.

Flipped classrooms are learning theory examples that are traditionally used to teach maths and science. But here’s an application in a foreign languages class:

Language learning can be monotonous, especially when students have to memorise translation formulae, phonetics, and other rules through rote learning. It’s an excellent idea to flip a Spanish or German language classroom by recording grammar rules in video lectures and then establishing dialogues between students in the classroom. 

Flipped classrooms emphasize the aspects of observation, retention, reproduction, and motivation.

This is because students have to replicate the observed lessons. And if the teacher positively reinforces their class performance, they retain the knowledge and encourage their peers to do so. 

Gamification and Real Play

A rather fun example of social learning theory is gamification or simulation. In this approach, teachers transform their classes into engaging spheres of activity where characters from stories and minor episodes from dramas can come alive. 

It transforms assignments and activities into a game. Gamification involves turning a task into a competitive game, awarding prizes to winners, and generating that special and creative spark that will pique students’ interest.

To better understand this learning theory example, let’s consider texts of English literature that have popular trial scenes. Mock trials or mock courtrooms of famous novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird or Rebecca help students act out and observe some of the most crucial parts of the plot. 

Gamified classrooms greatly emphasise positive reinforcements which, in turn, serve as live models for the class. It is a tried and tested social-learning approach that engages learners.

Peer Coaching 

Social learning is essentially peer learning theory. Teachers can appoint peer coaches to help students who are struggling with particular concepts. This method is especially helpful to students who can learn from peers from other disciplines. 

For example, a teacher may invite excelling students from biology to coach English literature students who need a basic idea of science. In such instances, the experiences and learning difficulties are shared between coaches and learners. This way, learning is accomplished through observation. 

Alternatively, other teachers can also pose as peer coaches for kids. Peer coaching develops on social learning aspects such as observation and reproduction

Wrap Up: The Importance of Social Learning Theory in Education

Social learning theory has marked a significant change in how we understand the learning process. It has demonstrated that learners are engaged in the learning process and that learning a behaviour requires more than responding to something in the environment.

Instead, learning requires that people observe their environment, become motivated to reproduce a behaviour from their social context, and learn not only from their own actions but also from replicating behaviours that have been modelled for them by others.

The brilliance of Bandura’s social learning theory is that it includes factors outside of coursework as determinants of education. Bandura took into account social contexts, learners’ mental state and motivation as they actively participate in the learning process. 

From an educator’s point of view, this theory compels us to be empathetic and humane in our teaching endeavours. 

Bottom line:

The implications of social learning theory for classroom practice are numerous.


FAQ

Q: What is social learning?

A: According to the social learning theory definition, individuals can acquire new information and behaviours by watching other people. This sort of learning, known as observational learning, can be used to explain a wide range of behaviours, including those that pose a conundrum to conventional learning theories.

Q: How is social learning theory used in schools?

A: One of the basic social learning theory examples in the classroom involves praising a student who raised his hand in class. In this instance, the student gets the motivation for repeating this behaviour, and his peers are also encouraged to participate in the class by answering questions. 

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