Social Learning Theory

Social Learning Theory – sometimes referred to as a “bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation” (“Social Learning Theory: Bandura,” n.d., p. 1) and is referred to as “Social Cognitive Theory” in the text “Human Learning” (Ormrod, 2008).



The following principles of Social Cognitive Theory are outlined in “Human Learning” :

  • “People can learn by observing the behaviors of others, as well as by observing the outcomes of those behaviors (Modeling).”
  • “Learning can occur without a change in behavior.”
  • “The consequences of behavior play a role in learning.”
  • Cognition also plays a role in learning.”

“People can have considerable control over their actions and environments.” (Ormrod, 2008, p. 119)


How does learning occur?

Objectivistic – knowledge is acquired; Passive Learner

“Learning occurs through observation of outside stimuli” (Davis, Edmunds & Kelly-Bateman, 2008, p. 1).

“Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action” (“Social Learning Theory: Bandura,” n.d., p. 1)

“Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences” (“Social Learning Theory: Bandura,” n.d., p. 1).


Which factors influence learning?


As outlined in “Human Learning: the environment reinforces and  punishes modeling in several ways:

“The observer is reinforced by the model; The observer is reinforced by a third person; The imitated behavior itself leads to reinforcing consequences; Consequences of the model’s behavior affect the observer’s behavior vicariously (vicarious reinforcement)” (Ormrod, 2008, p. 120-121).



As outlined in “Human Learning” cognition is evident in learning in several ways:

“Learning is, first and foremost, a mental (rather than behavioral) acquisition; Certain cognitive processes are essential for learning to occur (i.e., paying attention and memory coding); Learners must be aware of existing response-consequence contingencies; Learners form expectations for future response-consequence contingencies; Learners also form beliefs about their own ability to perform various behaviors; Outcome and efficacy expectations influence cognitive processes that promote learning; The non-occurrence of expected consequences is an influential consequence in and of itself” (Ormrod, 2008, p. 122-125).


Factors that influence learning expand upon the behaviorist factors of stimuli and response elaborating the concepts of  modeling, cuing, shaping, and further add significant cognitive components: “attention, retention, reproduction, motivation and reciprocal determinism” (“Social Learning Theory: Bandura,” n.d., p. 1; Ormrod, J.E., 1999; Ormrod, 2008).



Reciprocal determinism – “the world and a person’s behavior cause each other” (“Social Learning Theory: Bandura,” n.d., p. 1) also referred to as Reciprocal Causation – environment, person, and behavior influence each other reciprocally through interaction (Ormrod, 2008).


Modeling “teaches new behaviors, influences the frequency of learned behaviors, may encourage previously forbidden behaviors, increases the frequency of similar behaviors” (Ormrod, 2008, p. 127-128).


Self-Efficacy – students are more likely to participate in behaviors they believe will result in success and less likely if they believe it will result in failure (Ormrod, 2008).


Self-Regulation – the ability of students and/or individuals to regulate their own behavior on the basis of what has been previously deemed appropriate or inappropriate in certain situations (Ormrod, 2008).



“Students often learn a great deal simply by observing others; Describing the consequences of behaviors can effectively increase appropriate behaviors and decrease inappropriate ones; Modeling provides an alternative to shaping for teaching new behaviors; Teachers, parents and other adults must model appropriate behaviors and take care that they don’t model inappropriate ones; Exposure to a variety of models further enhances students’ learning; Students must believe they are capable of accomplishing school tasks; Teachers should help students set realistic expectations for their accomplishment; and, Self-regulation techniques provide effective methods for improving student behavior” (Ormrod, 2008, p. 145-147).


What is the role of memory?

One of the key components of Social Learning Theory is learning through modeling and/or observation.  Accordingly, memory has to do with the conditions necessary for effective modeling to occur or be repeated.  These conditions are reflective of the blending between behaviorist and cognitive theories.

  • Attention
  • Retention through rehearsal, memory coding
  • Motor Reproduction (strategy)
  • Motivation (Ormrod, 2008)    


How does transfer occur?

Again, Social Learning Theory represents of blending of Behaviorist and Cognitive Theories.  As such, transfer occurs through generalization and similarities of stimuli.  The more similar the context and stimuli, the more likely there is transfer.


What types of learning are best explained by this position?

According to “Human Learning” many behaviors can be acquired through modeling such as:

Becoming better readers because parents read frequently in the home; social skills; athletic skills; appropriate social behaviors (i.e., resistance to smoking and/or drugs and/or alcohol), emotional responses appropriate to specific situations; development of attitudes, values and morality (Ormrod, 2008).


How is technology used for learning in your industry?

Online Learning aka eLearning (formal and/or informal) utilizing Course Management Systems (CMS) and/or virtual worlds such as the AET Zone (“Emerging,” 2002).


“Constructivist-focused, online teaching: interactive learning, collaborative learning, facilitating learning, authentic learning, learner-centered learning, and high quality learning” (“Emerging,” 2002, p. 1).


“Technology tools provide “the means through which individuals engage and manipulate both resources and their own ideas. Some kinds of technology tools can extend memory and make thinking visible. Good examples include brainstorming and concept mapping software such as Inspiration(r). Others help to represent knowledge and facilitate communication. For instance, the Collaborative Visualization or CoVis Project provides visualization software designed to help students collect and analyze climatological data and visualize effects due to greenhouse gases and other phenomena. Finally, some tools, like simulations mentioned above, enable learners to experiment with modeling complex ideas. NetLogo, for example, provides a programmable modeling environment for simulating natural and social phenomena, such as how segregated neighborhoods can arise, not from any specific bias, but from the simple desire of people to live near others who are like themselves” (Driscoll, 2002, p. 1).


CSILE (or Computer-Supported Intentional Learning Environment aka Knowledge Forum) is one example of software that supports a networked, multimedia environment in which students collaborate on learning activities. They do this by creating ‘notes’ to express their ideas or integrate outside information about a topic. Then they read and respond to the notes of others, all of which builds a communal database producing shared knowledge about the topic or problem.  CSILE also facilitates connections between schools and the scientific community, allowing practicing scientists to serve as mentors to students. Other projects, such as Kids as Global Scientists, also bring students and various experts together in virtual communities through Internet links. Such a dialogue-based approach to learning creates a rich intellectual context, with ample opportunities for participants to improve their understanding and become more personally involved in explaining scientific phenomena” (Driscoll, 2002, p. 1).


Additionally, the Horizon Report, “introduces six emerging technologies or practices that are likely to enter mainstream use in learning-focused organizations within three adoption horizons over the next one to five years” (Johnson, Levine, & Smith, 2009, p. 3) in the areas of “mobiles, cloud computing, geo-everything, personal web, semantic aware applications and smart objects.



Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from Retrieved from

Driscoll, M. (2002). How people learn (and what technology might have to do with it). Retrieved from 2003-3/learn.htm

Emerging theories and online learning environments for adults. (2002). In Theories of Educational Technology. Retrieved November 24l, 2010, from

Johnson, L., Levine, A., & Smith, R. (2009). The Horizon Report (2009 ed.). Retrieved from pdf/CSD5612.pdf

Ormrod, J. (2008). Human Learning (5th ed.). New Jersey, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2008). Overview. In Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition) (pp. 1-26). New Jersey, NY: Pearson.

Social learning theory: Bandura. (n.d.). Retrieved from


9 thoughts on “Social Learning Theory

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  3. Hi Lynn,
    Interesting. I’m finishing up a project for a Stanford MOOC, ‘Designing a New Learning Environment’, googled “bridge between behaviorist cognitive learning theories”, this page was 4th down on the results, and here I am! I read your About page and the ‘plot thickened’ a bit, perhaps. It seems we may have some interests in common. See what you think. If it seems providential, let’s follow up later. I’ve *got to focus* for the rest of the week!…. But I can’t resist….here’s the skinny:

    I’m a linguist and only learned in 2010 that a localization methodology I developed 20+ years earlier in Papua New Guinea was a blend of *modeling*, ala Bandura, and integrational linguistics. That was HIV/AIDS peer education in Texas prisons (see Kate Hendricks, then at TDCJ now CDC, was the medical SME for the _Kande’s Story_ (google it) series of shellbooks I wrote in 2003. about the plight of ‘AIDS orphan parents’. Kande is now in over 100 African languages, and closer to 200 elsewhere.

    I’ve *gotta* run now, so see and for ‘the rest of the story’ if you’re still interested at that point, see #1 on the latest post I just updated a few hours ago, and let’s follow up. Why would I not be surprised if you got involved somehow? You just never know about ‘providence’… not a ‘tame lion’ at all, eh?


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