The Modeling Process of Social Learning Theory

Today, the Social Learning Theory proposed by Albert Bandura is usually grouped with behavioral theories in most psychology textbooks. Bandura thought his Social Learning Theory wasn’t behavioral, but rather a ‘social cognitive theory’.

Aside from the first two premises with, one, people learn through observation and two, mental state affects learning, there is a third premise that states the way someone learns something may not necessarily affect their behavior. Most behaviorists believed that learning directly caused a lasting change in behavior. Bandura believed otherwise.

Observational learning states that one can learn without necessarily changing their behavior. Not all of the behaviors one observes over the course of their lifetime will be effectively learned. There are many factors between the model and the learner that can affect the outcome.

There are four steps that affect the outcome. In this case, the outcome is the modeling process and observational learning occurring. The four steps are attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. The steps are quite simple. The first, attention, is somewhat obvious. To learn anything, you need to be paying attention. If there’s any distraction, this factor could negatively impact observational learning. The second, retention, is the ability to store information learned. Many factors can affect this second step. One being able to pull up information, later, after initial understanding is absolutely essential to observational learning.

The third step, reproduction, is where one mimics the behavior learned from the model. After learning the behavior and retaining it for later use, one can now practice the behavior. This will serve to improve their efficiency, skill-level and help them retain the information learned even more. The fourth step is motivation and rightly so. For one to successfully learn a behavior, they must have a desire to learn it in the first place. Without motivation, it has been proven that one will quickly lose a behavior they have learned. This is because they are lacking the motivation to practice the learned behavior. Fitness gurus are forever overusing this saying, “Use it or lose it.” However, that quote also applies to the social learning theory as well.

Additionally, Bandura says that reinforcements and punishments also play a key role in motivation. Experiencing these motivators, yourself, can be highly effective. Then again, it can also be motivating to observe others receiving some type of reinforcement or punishment. For example, if I witnessed a classmate receiving extra credit from the instructor for being punctual, I might consider showing up a few minutes before class the next day.