By Cassie Koch
The social cognitive theory is derived from constructing meaning and knowledge from social influences. Albert Bandura, a well-known theorist of the social cognitive theory, conducted an experiment to prove how social influences including the media have adverse affects on people, especially children. People are continually learning and constructing meaning throughout their whole life from communications within their community and now through the Internet. This article provides an understanding of how the mind is influenced by social interactions and how to implement technology to enhance social learning.
keywords: social learning, social cognition, social cognitive theory, Albert Bandura, sociocultural theory, connectivism
Social Cognition and Social Learning Theories of Education and Technology
The mind is a mysterious science. Theorists are continually studying how the mind understands and interprets information. Some focus on the cognitive components of learning while others focus on behavioral influences. Theories are constantly changing with the advancements of technology. One theory that draws on both cognitive and behavior influences and benefits from technology is that of social learning or the social cognitive theory.
The social cognitive theory thrives on the advancement of new technologies. “Social and technological changes alter, often considerably, the kinds of life events thatbecome customary in the society. Indeed, many of the major changes in social and economic lifeare ushered in by innovations of technology . . . (Elder, 1981)” (Bandura, 1989, p. 5-6). Technology provides new and innovative methods to create social learning environments. One aspect of technology is the ability to interact and observe others. “Human expectations, beliefs,emotional bents and cognitive competencies are developed and modified by social influencesthat convey information and activate emotional reactions through modeling, instruction andsocial persuasion” (Bandura, 1989, p. 3).Students are constantly surrounded by social influences whether it’s a community influence or a media influence.Regardless of the model, the influence is still there. “Humans have evolved an advanced capacity for observational learning that enables them to expand their knowledge and skills rapidly through information conveyed by the rich variety of models” (Bandura, 2008, p. 96). There are varieties of models both immediate and distant that socially influence people’s learning or cognition.
Modeling is a major component of the social learning theory.
In social cognitive theory, learning from the effects of actions is a special case ofobservational learning. In learning by direct experience, people construct conceptions ofbehavior from observing the effects of their actions; in learning by modeling, they derive theconceptions from observing the structure of the behavior being modeled. (Bandura, 1989, p. 46)
Learning from the effects of actions of others can directly influence ones choices.
Any factor that influenceschoice behavior can profoundly affect the direction of personal development. This isbecause the social influences operating in selected environments continue to promotecertain competencies, values, and interests long after the decisional determinant hasrendered its inaugurating effect. (Bandura, 2001, p. 10-11)
Observing behaviors or the effects of one’s own actions are types of social learning. Social psychology takes this one step further to explain how learning is influenced. “Social cognition has its roots in social psychology which attempts ‘to understand and explain how the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others’ (Allport, 1985, p.3)” (Huitt, 2006, para. 1). The presence of others has a great push in how people act, but in order to understand how great the social influence is, we must first examine the role of the ‘self.’
Social psychologists confirm that learning is not obtained through independent factors; they take into account all influences. “Thoughts are not disembodied, immaterial entities that exist apart from neuralevents. Cognitive processes are emergent brain activities that exert determinative influence” (Bandura, 2001, p. 4). This determinative influence is reciprocating, in that it is a bit of give and take. Bandura (1986) developed the concept of reciprocal determinism, where “a person’s behavior is both influenced by and is influencing a person’s personal factors and the environment” (Huitt, 2006, para. 4). Multiple factors are taken into account when studying social learning. One key component of social leaning is the self and how one perceives the events occurring around them. “People are self-developing, proactive, self-regulating, and self-reflective, not just reactive organisms shaped and shepherded by environmental events or inner forces” (Bandura, 2008, p. 95). These inner thoughts are all shaped by outer influences and they are what make us all human.
People don’t model or copy every social influence they encounter; they determine which course of action to take through self-reflection. Inner thoughts are key aspects of learning and socializing; they are what make people human. “The core features of personal agency address the issue of what it means to be human” (Bandura, 2001, p. 6). A major personal agency of the social cognitive theory is forethought.“Through the exercise of forethought, peoplemotivate themselves and guide their actions in anticipation of future events. When projectedover a long time course on matters of value, a forethoughtful perspective provides direction, coherence, and meaning to one's life” (Bandura, 2001, p. 7). Forethought allows people to choose their course of action.
People anticipate the likely consequences of theirprospective actions, they set goals for themselves, and they otherwise plan courses of action thatare likely to produce desired outcomes. Through exercise of forethought, people motivatethemselves and guide their actions anticipatorily. (Bandura, 1989, p. 39)
Forethought allows people to examine their actions and choose to act in favor of one course of action or another.
The other key personal agencies of the social cognitive theory are self-efficiency and self-regulation. “Two principles of human functioning related to student learning involve the processed of self-efficiency (can this be done; can I do it [. . .]) and self-regulation (goals, plans, perseverance)” (Huitt, 2006, para. 5). The conative process accounts for these two principles, in which “[c]onation refers to the connection of knowledge and affect to behavior and is associated with the issue of ‘why’” (Huitt, 2006, para. 5). These two principles are choices students will plan and make based on their social influences and these influences are ever-changing with technology. “The rapid pace of informational, social, and technological change is placing a premiumon personal efficacy for self-development and self-renewal throughout the life course” (Bandura, 2001, p.11). These informational, social and technological changes provide incentives and drive the desire to learn in people. “Efficacy beliefs are thefoundation of human agency. Unless people believe they can produce desired results andforestall detrimental ones by their actions, they have little incentive to act or to persevere inthe face of difficulties” (Bandura, 2001, p. 10). Social influences motivate people to meet standards set by society and achieve success. “[S]elf-efficacy appears at the top of the motivational hierarchy; that is, without belief in one’s ability to succeed, there will be little chance for learning or achievement” (Bowers-Campbell, 2008, p. 77). With a belief in success, people can strive to reach their goals. Bowers-Campbell quotes, Weiner (1979) on the definition of self-regulated learning as “the active, goal-directed, self-control of behavior, motivation, and cognition for academic tasks by an individual student” (2008, p. 77). Both self-regulation and self-efficiency are key components of the social cognitive theory. The components are formed from social influences that may or may not be good influences for driving students to be motivated to learn.
Albert Bandura created an experiment to show just how much children are influenced by social influences. “The most famous experiment on the modeling of aggression is Albert Bandura’s bobo-doll experiment” (Boeree, 1999). To conduct the experiment, Bandura used a technological media to influence the children. “Nursery school boys and girls saw a film in which an adult male or female model assaulted the clown. The kids themselves then had a chance to ‘play’ with the bobo doll without adult supervision” (Griffin, n.d., p. 372). The experimental data is quite shocking in how young children could be so violently influenced by a TV clip. “Since children in the control group didn’t normally say and do these things, the experiment demonstrated that the youngsters had acquired the new, aggressive behavior by watching the film” (Griffin, n.d., p. 372). The experiment put into perspective what Bandura had already presumed. “Bandura concludes that reinforcement doesn’t affect the learning of novel responses, but it does ‘determine whether or not observationally acquired competencies will be put into use’” (Griffin, n.d., p. 373). Children were strongly influenced by observing different types of behavior through the media, which proves the effects of the media and social influences.
Social influences can create positive learning environments. One of the greatest social influences on social learning is the community. ‘Community of practice,’ a term coined by Lave and Wenger, “is based on the premises that humans are social beings, and their knowledge is developed through active engagement in valued undertakings throughout their lives” (Kop & Hill, 2008, p. 6). From day one people are learning through social interactions. ‘“Vygotsky (1934/1986) described learning as being embedded within social events and occurring as a child interacts with people, objects, and events in the environment’ (p. 287)” (Scherba de Valenzuela, 2002, para. 1). These interactions are increasing with online communications and influences. According to the theories of Jean Piaget,
[K]nowledge is not simply transmitted from teacher to student, but actively constructed by the mind of the learner. [. . .] learners are particularly likely to make new ideas when they are actively engaged in making some type of external artifact [. . .] which they can reflect upon and share with others. (Karai & Resnick, 1996 , p. 1)
Technology is a good medium for actively engaging students. Through technology, reflecting and sharing people are able to construct meaning in what they have learned. “Constructing meaning comes from interacting with others to explain, defend, discuss, and assess our ideas and challenge, question, and comprehend the ideas of others” (Sherman & Kurshan, 2005, p. 12). Social interactions create learning where students are able to apply meaning and thoroughly comprehend.
Social learning has multiple benefits other then being able to construct meaning. Through social learning “higher order functions develop out of social interaction. Vygotsky argues that a child’s development cannot be understood by a study of the individual. We must also examine the external social world in which that individual life has developed” (Scherba de Valenzuela, 2002, para. 1). Using social activities develop and enhance learning. “Eccles, Wigfield, and Schiefele (1998) found that academic peer-support was a crucial part of the learning process for adolescents, especially through modeling specific learning strategies” (Bowers-Campbell, 2008, p. 81). Modeling, along with other social activities, creates active learning environments for learning to occur. “Social activities allow students to express and develop their understandings with peers as they pursue projects through conversations that stimulate examining and expanding their understandings” (Sherman & Kurshan, 2005, p. 12). Peer-support can be obtained through cooperative learning groups. Cooperative learning groups have multiple benefits such as:
Achievement increases for all ability levels (high, medium, low); higher-level thinking processes can result; a deeper level of understanding is possible; critical thinking is promoted; more positive peer relationships result; students exhibit better social skills and provide more social support for their peers; and a higher level of self-esteem can result (Brandt, 1987: 17). (Alansari, 2006, p. 267)
Social learning is key to creating higher-order thinking and with continual enhancement of technology learning is inevitable.
Technology provides multiple windows for social interactions. “One increasingly common technology-based strategy is to create online communities of students and adults who collaborate on specific problems” (Sherman & Kurshan, 2005, p. 12). With online communities, social interactions and learning occurs with students-to-students or even with students-to-professionals. “[One] can also facilitate depth of understanding by integrating technologies into the fabric of teaching as intellectual tools that students use to study, learn, and communicate with others in their classes as well as others in different locations” (Sherman & Kurshan, 2005, p. 12). The benefits of social interactions seem endless with the advancements of communications online. “[With the] complexity of information available on the Internet, new possibilities for people to communicate on global networks, and for the ability to aggregate different information streams” (Kop & Hill, 2008, p. 7). The improvement in communications increases social learning; it’s only a matter of how to implement these communications.
Communications through the use of technology create student centered, social learning environment. “[A] shift to a more student-centered instruction may occur initially only whenever technology is used” (Matzen & Edmunds, 2007, p. 418). This shift can occur with social networking. “According to NSBA, adolescents of the Net Generation are ‘beyond basic communication, many students engage in highly creative activities on social networking sites – and a sizeable proportion of them are adventurous nonconformists who set the pace for their peers’” (Bowers-Campbell, 2008, p. 79). Children are continually communicating with peers online, especially through social networking sites. “Social networking sites, virtual online locations where users create profiles to connect to other users, already engage incredible numbers of adolescents” (Bowers-Campbell, 2008, p. 79). Children have a high interest in these types of sites already, so to motivate students to learn, one could create a safe learning environment using a social networking site. “[T]eachers build students’ self-confidence when they care about them as individuals; thus, a teacher’s Facebook profile may function as a pedagogical tool for communication interest and concern in student learning in an arena where students are the ‘experts’” (Bowers-Campbell, 2008, p. 81). Children are already using these sites to seek out help with school assignments, so to create a group for them to exchange knowledge would increase their interest and responsibility in the subject. “The group feature of Facebook renders it especially helpful in empowering students to take responsibility for their own learning goals” (Bowers-Campbell, 2008, p. 82). Facebook is only one site for social networking. With the continual advancement of the Internet, more helpful and safer sites are appearing. Social networking is just one benefit of technology; another is video games.
Technologies have created many educational social games. “[Video games] are a central part of the late 20th-century children’s culture. In the playing of video games, children mobilize energies that many educators, parents, and researchers wish would be dedicated to learning” (Kafai & Resnick, 1996, p. 4).To harness these energies, one could implement video games into the classroom or have the children make their own video games (Kafai & Resnick, 1996, p. 4). Games could be created, tested and discussed in a group setting or even online. Video games are continually available online, where people are able to discuss and solve adventures together. “In a prototype Fifth Dimension system, a dozen or more 6 to 14-year old children encounter a large variety of off-the-shelf computer games and game-like educational activities” (Brown & Cole, 2000, p. 198). In these games, students socialize with other students and collaborate to solve educational games.
A Cognitive Evaluation team comprised of both implementers and external evaluators documented improvement in children’s demonstrations of verbal, mathematical, and technical ability as well as gains in their abilities to follow written instructions as an effect of Fifth Dimensions participation. (Brown & Cole, 2000,p. 208)
Social influences enhanced the learning of the children in this setting, and they enhance the learning of many others in numerous other social technology settings.
One theory that draws on both cognitive and behavior influences and benefits from technology is that of social learning or the social cognitive theory. Learning continually occurs through social interactions and influences from the community, media and the Internet. People determine how these influences will affect them based on their inner thoughts. Through social interactions learning will occur and meaning will be constructed. There are numerous opportunities for people to enhance their learning through social interactions online. Global networking and creating/interacting with educational games as a group are a few resources to enhance social learning. Social learning is ever increasing with the continual advancements of technology and online communications.
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Behaviorism is a learning theory that only focuses on objectively observable behaviors and discounts any independent activities of the mind. Behavior theorists define learning as nothing more than the acquisition of new behavior based on environmental conditions.
Experiments by behaviorists identify conditioning as a universal learning process. There are two different types of conditioning, each yielding a different behavioral pattern:
- Classic conditioning occurs when a natural reflex responds to a stimulus. We are biologically “wired” so that a certain stimulus will produce a specific response. One of the more common examples of classical conditioning in the educational environment is in situations where students exhibit irrational fears and anxieties like fear of failure, fear of public speaking and general school phobia.
- Behavioral or operant conditioning occurs when a response to a stimulus is reinforced. Basically, operant conditioning is a simple feedback system: If a reward or reinforcement follows the response to a stimulus, then the response becomes more probable in the future. For example, leading behaviorist B.F. Skinner used reinforcement techniques to teach pigeons to dance and bowl a ball in a mini-alley.
There have been many criticisms of behaviorism, including the following:
- Behaviorism does not account for all kinds of learning, since it disregards the activities of the mind.
- Behaviorism does not explain some learning–such as the recognition of new language patterns by young children–for which there is no reinforcement mechanism.
- Research has shown that animals adapt their reinforced patterns to new information. For instance, a rat can shift its behavior to respond to changes in the layout of a maze it had previously mastered through reinforcements.
How Behaviorism Impacts Learning
This theory is relatively simple to understand because it relies only on observable behavior and describes several universal laws of behavior. Its positive and negative reinforcement techniques can be very effective– such as in treatments for human disorders including autism, anxiety disorders and antisocial behavior. Behaviorism is often used by teachers who reward or punish student behaviors.
Behaviorism is often seen in contrast to constructivism. Constructivists are more likely to allow for experimentation and exploration in the classroom and place a greater emphasis on the experience of the learner. In contrast to behaviorists, they feel that an understanding of the brain informs teaching.
D.C. Phillips & Jonas F. Soltis, Perspectives on Learning, Chapter 3. Teachers College Press.