Social learning theory was developed by Albert Bandura in 1969. Bandura was born on December 4, 1925. Through Bandura years of work, he has been ranked one of the most prominent psychologists of the twentieth century. (Allan, 2017, pg 12). Bandura’s development of the social learning theory was a “response to the archaic position that aggressive behavior is a product of innate aggressive drives” (Anderson and Kras, 2008 pg 102). Through Bandura’s social learning theory, he uses an experiment known as the Bobo doll experiments. This experiment was used with children and it showed children would show more violent behaviors when they have observed adults who have shown violent behaviors (Allan, 2017, pg 13). “Those experiments have particular relevance today when arguments against violent music videos, movies, and computer games focus on the negative impacts that such things have on children and young people” (Allan, 2017, pg 13).
“Social Learning Theory posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. The theory has often been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation” (David, 2017). The social learning theory relates to two different theories: Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory and Lave’s Situated Learning Theory. Both Vygotsky’s and Lave’s theories focus on the importance of social learning. (David, 2017). Bandura believed individuals learn by observing other people by their behavior, attitudes, and their outcomes that came from those behaviors(David, 2017). “Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences” (David, 2017).
Bandura focused on four principles of the social learning theory these principles included: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. To break down these principles the first principle is attention, individuals are not able to learn if they are not focused on a particular mission. If they see something as being different or out of the ordinary, it is likely for one to get distracted and will make it the focus of their attention stringing away from the main “mission.” (Wheeler, 2018 para 7). The second principle is retention, individuals learn by storing material in their memories. Individuals remember that information later when they are obligatory to respond to a situation that may be comparable to the situation within which they had learned the information the first time (Wheeler, 2018, para 8). The third principle is a reproduction, individuals repeat past learned information such as behavior, skills, and knowledge when it is mandatory. Though, rehearsal through mental and physical rehearsal often improves individual responses (Wheeler, 2018, para 9). The last and final principle is motivation, individuals need to be motivated to do the things they need or want to do. It is common that motivation is triggered from observation of others that may be given a reward or punished for the things that they have done or said. With only having those two outcomes, it will either motivate one to do it at a later or avoid doing it at all (Wheeler, 2018, para 10).
I believe when a social worker decides what theory to use for their client they want to outweigh the strengths and weaknesses of each theory they have on the table that may be a possibility to use for their client. Two strengths for social learning theory would include a change in the environment, change in the child and different ways of learning. Change in the environment, changes in the child is seen as a strength in the social learning theory because “its flexibility to explain differences in a child’s behavior or learning. The environmental — or societal — aspect of social learning theory says that children learn in a social context. This reinforces the idea that when there is a change in the child’s environment, the child’s behavior may change. For example, a child may have trouble following directions in a relaxed home environment, but have no problems with authority in a stricter school setting” (Loop, 2018, para 2). The second strength, different ways of learning is a strength in the social learning theory because there are numerous methods when it comes to learning. (Loop, 2018, para 4). Bandura stated that individuals are able to learn by direct experiences or through observation. (Loop, 2018, para 4). “For instance, a child can learn the social norms of polite communication — such as to give and take within a conversation — by actually talking with others or by watching older children and adults talk to each other” (Loop, 2018, para 4).
No theory is perfect and I believe with every strength, a weakness follows. Weaknesses in the social learning theory include accountability, and standard milestones are ignored when the social learning theory is used. Accountability is a weakness in the social learning theory because children do not take accountability for his/her own actions. “Putting the focus on how setting influences behavior places more weight on the people and community that the child is part of, and not enough weight on how the child handles and processes new information. It neglects the child’s accountability and may go too far in stating that society directs how the individual behaves and acts”(Loop, 2018, para 3). Ignoring standard milestones is a weakness in social learning theory because, “unlike stage models of child development, social learning theory doesn’t hinge upon a distinct progression of learning and growth that is chronological or age-dependent. The view of this theory as neglecting to consider the child’s development, across all of the domains, is a potential weakness. Although not every child matures at an identical rate, some of the standard milestones and markers may still occur regardless of the environmental setting” (Loop, 2018, para 5).
Social Learning Theory in Social Work Practice
The use of Social Learning Theory in the social work field is important because in every filed a social worker will face complications and challenges that come with trying to understand human behavior. Trying to gain this insight is a difficult and procedure (Tropeano, 2015, para 1). When a social worker better understands the theory they are able to apply practice models to understand behavioral issues in any setting (Tropeano, 2015, para 3). As a social worker can play many roles and have different titles one social worker who could use social learning theory in their work could be a school social worker. Imagine a school social worker that has a student on their caseload that shows behavior that is aggressive and prevents his or her classmates from the ability to learn (Tropeano, 2015, para 5). “The social worker could use the social learning theory, assessing role models and stimuli the student is regularly exposed to that could be reinforcing aggressive, disruptive behavior or discouraging positive, pleasant behavior” (Tropeano, 2015, para 5). After discovering what may be producing the disruptive behavior of the student, the social worker can use social learning theory to discover patterns of dysfunctional thoughts that are persuading the student’s emotions and behaviors (Tropeano, 2015, para 5). It is important for social workers to use the social learning theory to be able to do their best work and achieve the type of development they seek for the different communities they may work with. The social learning theory can help define and treat the distinguishable cause of particular behaviors. Social workers can equip social learning theory in every difficult situation they may face to be able to discover the best solution (Tropeano, 2015, para 11).
I believe social learning has implications of social and economic justice. When using the social learning theory social and economic justice is seen because the theory can be used for anyone. This theory has no limitation; everyone can have equal access to this theory because we all “learn” in some way. This theory can be used from a child to an elder, a black to a white, a heterosexual to a homosexual.
As a social worker, I support using social learning theory because the theory relates to social work values. One social work is dignity and worth of the person (The National Association of Social Workers). I believe social learning theory shows this value because the theory is used to help understand why individuals develop certain behavior. As individuals learn things their behavior may be “different.” When a social worker works with a client and employs the social learning theory they “treat each person in a caring and respectful fashion, mindful of individual differences” (The National Association of Social Workers). Another social work value is service with the ethical principle of “social workers’ primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems (The National Association of Social Workers). I believe the value of service is mostly seen when using the social learning theory because the goal is to “address” that learned behavior.
Payne believes that the social learning theory emphases on how people in the world learn from social situations by learning how others act successfully (Payne, 2005). I agree with Payne because when I am learning new things I like to reflect off my peers and see how they learned it and if they were successful with the ways they learned.
Allan believes “Understanding Bandura’s work opens avenues into other ideas and theories, too. The American Psychologist B. F Skinner’s* behaviorist* theories, according to which human action is a response to a given stimulus, has significantly influenced social learning, theories. Bandura uses behaviorism as a starting point, and much of his work builds on it. He suggested, however, that ideas about “stimulus-response” according to which behavior is a direct effect of incoming signals (aggression, for example, is a direct result of frustration) underestimated the complexity of cognition. Understanding this can help us resist simplistic and theoretical models of behavior” (Allan, 2017, pg 13).
Crossman believes “social learning theory considers the formation of one’s identity to be a learned response to social stimuli. It emphasizes the societal context of socialization rather than the individual mind. This theory postulates that an individual’s identity is not the product of the unconscious (such as the belief of psychoanalytic theorists), but instead is the result of modeling oneself in response to the expectations of others. Behaviors and attitudes develop in response to reinforcement and encouragement from the people around us. While social learning theorists acknowledge that childhood experience is important, they also believe that the identity people acquire is formed more by the behaviors and attitudes of others”(Crossman, 2019, para 2).
Past Research on Social Learning Theory
Through the research of this paper, it can be assumed that plenty of research has been completed in the past by using the social learning theory. Researches such as Anderson, Kras, Deemin, and Johnson completed research in the past using the social learning theory. These researches used this theory to be able to better understand and assist victims of intimate personal violence, and for deafblind support groups.
Anderson and Kras completed research using the social learning theory to better understand and assist victims of intimate personal violence. “When examining this crime through a social learning theory, it is posited that violence toward an intimate is a learned behavior. Specifically, violence is learned in the context of the home and, unfortunately, is shaped during the early years of one’s childhood. When this factor is combined with exposure to violence, researchers have found this to be a potent combination for future aggressive behavior” (Anderson and Kras, 2008, pg 101). Theorist predicted if a child observes violence from their parents or in a family setting it is likely they will also have violence relationships (Anderson and Kras, 2008, pg 104). “A violent social learning environment is an environment in which one is exposed to violent behaviors either directly or indirectly, as well as to the attitudes and conditions that promote these behaviors. Potentially, one exposed to such an environment may interpret, adapt, or generalize such behaviors, cues and information in order to meet his needs . . . violent social learning environment refers to environments where the acts of pushing, shoving, grabbing, slapping, kicking, choking, scratching, jerking, twisting, biting, hitting, throwing something at someone, threatening or using a gun or knife on someone, or beating someone up occurs” (Anderson and Kras, 2008, pg 105). Anderson and Kras include research in the past in there research and they found research completed by Benda and Coewyn (2002). Benda and Coewyn “found that elements of social learning were significantly related to delinquency among boys aged 13-18. They found that the effects of prior abuse were the best predictor of violence among older youth (aged 16-18). Although they found that older youth were impacted highly by their peer relations, younger adolescents were more influenced by family interactions” (Anderson and Kras, 2008, pg 2008).
Deeming and Johnson completed research using the social learning theory for deafblind support groups. “The social learning theory-based deafblind support group differed from other therapeutic approaches to counseling groups. Some groups function as microcosms of the world-at-large, and group members use the safe environment of that microcosm to try out new ideas and behaviors. The deafblind group did not intend that the group reflect the environment in which they go about their daily activities because none of the members live or socialize exclusively with other deafblind people” (Deeming and Johnson, 2009, pg 205).
These findings of these two different researches simply prove that social learning theory is effective and are able to help the bigger problem. Anderson, Kras, Deeming, and Johnson prove the social learning theory has no limitations as each of their studies were from completely different groups.
I believe this theory is something we should use despite is weaknesses because it can be used to help children, adolescents, and adults. I believe this theory needs to be used so individuals are able to have a promising future. As we all learn differently, the way we learn can be rewarding but there could also be negatives. Peoples learning could possibly cause them trauma and they could develop a phobia. If a social worker works with a client and uses the social learning theory they could possibly help this client get over the phobia. If a client is able to overcome their phobia they may be able to have more opportunities in life. In other words, I believe this theory is important to use because of life matters.
- Allan, J. (2017). Aggression: A social learning analysis. Taylor and Francis, 1-13. https://radforduniversity.worldcat.org/title/aggression-a-social-learning-analysis/oclc/994006230/viewport
- Anderson, J., and Kras, K. (2008). Revisiting Albert Bandura’s social learning theory to better understand and assist victims of intimate personal violence. Women and Criminal Justice, 17(1), 99-124. https://www-tandfonline-com.lib-proxy.radford.edu/doi/ref/10.1300/J012v17n01_05?scroll=top
- Benda, B. B., & Corwyn, R. F. (2002). The effect of abuse in childhood and in adolescence on violence among adolescents. Youth & Society, 33(3), 339-365.
- Cooper, D., and Klein, J. (2018). Examining college students’ differential deviance: A partial test of social structure-social learning theory. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 28 (5), 602-622. https://www-tandfonline-com.lib-proxy.radford.edu/doi/full/10.1080/10911359.2018.1443868.
- Crossman, A. (2019). What is the social learning theory? ThoughtCo, para 1-8. https://www.thoughtco.com/social-learning-theory-definition-3026629
- David, L. (2017). Learning theories in plain English. https://www.learning-theories.com/social-learning-theory-bandura.html
- Deeming, P., and Johnson L. (2009). An application of Bandura’s social learning theory: A new approach to deafblind support groups. Journal of the American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association, 203-209. http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.lib-proxy.radford.edu/eds/detail/detail?vid=4&sid=8699c6aa-419f-4ffa-a1dc-a28974c56259%40sessionmgr101&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#db=ehh&AN=47226873.
- Horsburgh, J., and Ippolito, K. (2018). A sill to be worked at: using social learning theory to explore the process of learning from role models in clinical settings. BMC Medical Education, 18(1), p 1-8. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12909-018-1251-x#Sec3.
- Loop, E. (2018). Social learning theory strengths and weaknesses. Classroom, para 1-5. https://classroom.synonym.com/social-learning-theory-strengths-weaknesses-6592126.html
- Payne, M. (2005). Modern social work theory (3rd ed.). Chicago: Lyceum.
- The National Association of Social Workers. (n.d.). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.uaf.edu/socwork/student-information/checklist/(D)-NASW-Code-of-Ethics.pdf.
- Tropeano, M. (2015). Social learning theory and its importance to social work. Social Work License Map, para 1-11. https://socialworklicensemap.com/social-learning-theory-and-its-importance-to-social-work/
- Wheeler, S. (2018). Bandura’s 4 principles of social learning theory. TeachThought Staff. Para 1- 11. https://www.teachthought.com/learning/principles-of-social-learning-theory/.