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Social Learning Theory: Examining the influence of environment on behaviour


By: Hazira Miah 




Learning occurs through imitation, observation, attention, and motivation. 




Social learning theory is a psychological perspective that emphasizes the importance of observational learning, imitation, and modelling in the acquisition and development of behaviour. This theory suggests that individuals learn by observing the behaviours of others and the consequences of those behaviours 




There are many key concepts of social learning theory. One of these key concepts is observational learning, meaning individuals can learn new behaviours by watching others. This learning can occur through direct observation or media such as television, movies, or the Internet 




According to Albert Bandura’s theory on social learning, people learn new behaviours by observing and imitating the actions of others. We can use this in the case of viral challenges, where individuals watch others perform a specific task and then “imitate” the behaviour by completing the challenge themselves.  




Bandura and his colleagues presumed that learning from observation occurred via an input-output, cognitive model. Bandura and Jeffrey (1973) described four processes that account for learning from observation: attentional, motivational, retention, and motor reproduction.  




The act of imitation and modelling is key here as people are more likely to imitate behaviours they have observed if the model is someone they identify with or if the behaviour leads to positive outcomes. Models can be real people or characters portrayed in the media. 




Another key concept of the Social Learning Theory is the act of reinforcement and punishment. The theory suggests that the likelihood of a behaviour being repeated depends on the consequences that follow. If a behaviour is rewarded, it is more likely to be imitated, whereas if it is punished, it is less likely to be repeated.  




The concept of vicarious reinforcement comes into play here as individuals can learn from the experiences of others. For example, if a person observes someone else being rewarded or punished for a behaviour, they may adjust their behaviour accordingly.  




The Human Mirror neuron system (MNS) is a network of neurons in the brain that activates both when an individual acts and when they observe the same action being performed by another individual. 




Mirror neurons were first discovered in the early 1990s by a team of researchers led by Giacomo Rizzolatti in Italy, initially in the brains of macaque monkeys, and subsequent research suggested the presence of a similar system in humans. 




The human mirror neuron system has implications for various fields, including psychology, neuroscience, education, and social behaviour. Understanding how mirror neuron's function and how they contribute to social interactions and learning processes may have implications for therapies aimed at improving social skills, communication, and empathy, as well as for understanding conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, where deficits in social cognition and empathy are often observed 




With humans, observing others performing physical tasks can activate the mirror neuron system and contribute to the development of goal-directed behaviours. Social Learning Theory has significant implications for education as it emphasizes the role of social interactions, observation, and modelling in the learning process. 




For instance, teachers can serve as models for students by demonstrating desired behaviours, skills, and problem-solving strategies. By observing their teachers and peers, students can learn new concepts and behaviours more effectively.  




Teachers can also establish positive behavioural norms, provide praise and encouragement for desired behaviours, and use appropriate consequences for undesirable behaviours to reinforce social and academic expectations. Another example of applying social learning theory to education is through the act of collaborative learning.  




The theory supports the use of collaborative learning environments where students work together to solve problems, complete projects, and share ideas. Collaborative learning provides opportunities for students to observe and learn from one another, develop communication skills, and gain different perspectives.  




By incorporating principles of social learning theory into instructional practices and classroom management strategies, educators can create dynamic learning environments that promote collaboration, critical thinking, and the development of social and academic skills.  




Additionally, understanding how social interactions influence learning can help educators better support diverse learners and foster a sense of belonging and community in the classroom. Nonetheless, social learning theory offers a flexible framework that can be adapted to diverse learning contexts, learner characteristics, and instructional approaches. 




The Social Learning Theory has been widely applied in various fields, including education, psychology, and criminology, to understand how behaviours are acquired, maintained, and changed. It suggests that social influences play a crucial role in shaping human behaviour, and individuals learn not only from their own experiences but also from observing and interacting with others in their social environment.  




Overall, this theory remains effective due to its recognition of the importance of social interactions, observation, and modelling in the learning process. By leveraging these principles, educators, practitioners, and learners can enhance learning outcomes, promote collaboration, and foster the development of essential skills and competencies.



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