This theory, expressed by Albert Bandura, highlights the idea that people learn from one another, through observation, imitation and modelling. According to him, human behaviour is directly linked with a continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioural and environmental influences. Thus, we'd need a learning community where to practice all these, getting the most of social interaction.
What does this mean? That we acquire information every time we engage in a social context, by observing others' behaviour and imitating it, in one way or another. We can all do this among a learning community, with the purpose of acquiring knowledge from multiple perspectives and internalising it based on our own understanding of it. Moreover, according to the theory, through observation, an individual forms an idea of how new behaviours are performed and this acquired information is further used as a guide for action. Basically, an interaction leads to an action highly influenced by the behaviours noticed in that interaction.
Further, the theory describes three types of modelling stimuli:
The extent to which a certain behaviour is internalised also depends on a series of processes, such as attention, retention, reproduction of the specific behaviour and motivation, which are fundamental in the process of acquiring information and actually using it on long-term.
Viewed from the perspective of this theory, learning is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context (learning community) and can occur purely through observation. Moreover, it is not restricted to the observation of behaviours as such, but also to a process known as vicarious reinforcement, which focuses on the outcomes of observing rewards and punishments. If a specific behaviour is often rewarded, it will most likely persist and it will be adopted by the others.
What are the implications of social learning for nowadays corporate training programs? Well, have you heard of the 70:20:10 model? It is a learning model used by training professionals to describe how the acquiring of knowledge happens. According to it, 70% of what we learn comes from observing others, 20% comes from interaction and only 10% is a result of traditional learning methods. Basically, social learning is the basis to which we constantly add new concepts.
And, in an attempt to keep up with the business requirements, the e-Learning industry has found methods to fully benefit from the social feature of the learning process, by creating a learning community known as community of practice.
What are communities of practice? Learning environments in which the social interaction is fully employed and the knowledge seekers can share insights from their own professional experience, can engage in conversations with their peers and find possible outcomes for the issues they encounter.
In terms of the previously mentioned concept of vicarious reinforcement, it is employed in the learning process through gamification, an approach which encourages learners to engage through a form of reward. (badges, leaderboards, etc.)
Social learning is a powerful tool for acquiring information and, further, for knowledge retention, which is one of the goals on any learning process.
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Some (final) thoughts