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Social Cognitive Learning Theory 1

Sydney Moss

Learning Theory

EPSY 302

Dr. Gabe Mydland

Social Cognitive Learning Theory

For years, theorists have been trying to explain how students learn. Behavioral theorists,

such as B.F. Skinner, believe that students learn through their interaction with the environment

and through conditioning. Cognitive theorists focus on the cognition theory, that is, they focus on

mental processing and believe that it is essential to learning. (Kretchmar, 2017). The social

cognitive learning theory, mostly attributed to Albert Bandura, has been described as the

combination of behaviorism and cognitive theory, but with the addition of observational learning.

Saul McLeod describes social cognitive learning as “the ‘bridge’ between traditional theory (i.e.,

behaviorism) and the cognitive approach” (McLeod, 2016). Social cognitive theorists believe

that people learn best by paying attention to the behavior of others (Ormrod & Jones, 2018).

There are many key components to social cognitive learning theory that I will discuss throughout

this paper, including modeling, self-efficacy and self-regulation, reciprocal determinism, and

vicarious reinforcement.

B.F. Skinner supported operant conditioning. Operant conditioning states that “a response

that is followed by a reinforcing stimulus (a reinforcer) is more likely to occur again” (Ormrod &

Jones, 2018). However, Bandura also believed in observational learning.

Observational learning includes four components: attention, retention, motor

reproduction, and motivation. Bandura himself said that “a person cannot learn much by

observation if he does not attend to, or recognize, the essential features of the model’s behavior”
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(Bandura, 1971). The observer must pay attention and closely follow the actions of the model.

Second, the observer must retain the information so they can remember it later. If the observer

wants to enact those behaviors when the model is no longer around, they must obtain it through

memory. Motor reproduction happens next. As it states, the learner must reproduce the learned

behavior and have the motor skills to do so. Finally, the model must motivate the learner to

reproduce, or imitate, the new behavior. Bandura states, “a person can acquire, retain, and

possess the capabilities for skillful execution of modeled behavior, but the learning may rarely be

activated into overt performance if it is negatively sanctioned or otherwise unfavorably received”

(Bandura, 1971). An example of observational learning can be seen in a child learning how to

walk. First, the child watches and observes the models around him or her, perhaps parents or

siblings. The child pays close attention to the mechanisms they use to walk, such as keeping

balance or putting one foot in front of the other, etc. The child retains the information needed to

walk themselves. They eventually develop the motor skills needed to walk. The child is

motivated to take their first steps by encouragement from their parents or other family members.

Eventually, the child can walk on their own.

Modeling is a key part of observational learning. When someone displays a behavior and

another person imitates it, modeling is occurring (Ormrod & Jones, 2018). A model, then, is the

person or thing who demonstrates the behavior. Ormrod and Jones mention that “modeling of

skills can be especially effective when the model demonstrates not only how to do a task but also

how to think about the task” (Ormrod & Jones, 2018). I have observed many examples of

modeling while observing various teachers in the Madison Middle School, including Mrs. Wiese

and Mr. Waba, both math teachers. Both are great models because not only do they put several

algebra equations up on the board and show all the steps, but they also explain to the students the
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thought process and how to think their way through each equation. For example, they begin by

putting an equation on the board. Then, they explain to the students that the first step is to get all

the “x’s” on one side, then to get “x” alone, etc. The students follow along, writing each step

down in their notebooks. When children get stuck, one of the first things they do is go back to

the algebra equation they did as a class and follow the same steps.

Along with modeling is vicarious reinforcement and vicarious punishment. Bandura

noted that people did not need to be reinforced directly but could be reinforced by observing

what happens as a result of a model’s behavior. If the learner witnesses that someone else is

being reinforced for a behavior, they are more likely to imitate the behavior. However, if the

student sees someone else being punished for a behavior, then they are less likely to imitate that

behavior (Ormrod & Jones, 2018). My mom used vicarious reinforcement and vicarious

punishment when my brother and I were growing up. My mother always said I was a good model

for my brother and would often praise my good behavior, which would in turn result in my

brother “copying” me to receive the same praise. If he saw mom punishing me for a behavior, he

did not imitate my behavior and avoided punishment.

Bandura also promoted reciprocal determinism. Reciprocal determinism is “the

interaction of environment, person, and behavior” (Kretchmar, 2017). How a student behaves is

usually due to these three components. I was able to observe an example of reciprocal

determinism in the classroom. One student was seeming to act up in class and had been told

numerous times to keep his hands to himself. The teacher told me later that the student does not

enjoy math, so he often acted up in class. After several minutes, the student acted out physically

and pushed his things off the desk. His behavior led the teacher to have to escort him out of the

classroom, which left the rest of the classroom environment in quite a state. The student’s
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personal dislike of math led to the teacher having to continuously ask him to stop his disruptive

behavior, which led him to act out, and in turn altered the classroom environment, a sure

example of reciprocal determinism.

The social cognitive learning theory also promotes self-regulation and self-efficacy. Self-

regulation, to the core, is when a learner can control their own learning. Self-regulating students

can do many things, including establish their own goals, monitor their progress, ask for help

when needed, control their motivation, etc. (Ormrod & Jones, 2018). Throughout time, students

can understand what behaviors are productive and which are not. In a sense, they start to mature

and can do things on their own. Self-regulating learners no longer need constant outside

reinforcement and motivation, but can control their own learning. For example, a teacher assigns

the class to present a project on World War II, but the steps they take to get there is up to them.

The teacher gives them little to no instruction. Becky can plan the project on her own, while her

classmates need more detail and instruction. She sets mini-goals she needs to reach to complete

the project (research, organize information, develop a presentation, etc.) and determines the steps

needed to accomplish those goals. At the end, Becky can evaluate, or reflect, on her performance.

She reflects on the things she did right, but also can identify the things she needs to work on for

next time. Becky is an example of a self-regulating learner.

To become a self-regulating learner, self-efficacy is almost essential. Self-efficacy is

one’s belief in their own capabilities (Kretchmar, 2017). A student must be confident in what

they can do and achieve if they are to become self-regulating learners. Teachers should build on a

student’s self-efficacy because it can play a large role in their motivation and their performance.

We all want our students to be successful, and we can start building that by instilling self-

efficacy into our students. If they believe that they are capable, they are almost halfway there.
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For example, when I was in high school, I took a Pre-Calculus class. At the beginning of the

course, I was struggling. I did poorly on some assignments, and I started to think that math

wasn’t the right choice for me. Doing poorly on those assignments made me believe that I wasn’t

capable of doing well in Pre-Calc. However, my teacher helped me to build upon my self-

efficacy. She started teaching me different studying strategies, gave me feedback on the things I

did wrong as well as the things I did right, and helped me build upon the skills in my Pre-Calc

“toolbox.” All these things helped me believe that I was capable of answering even the toughest

Pre-Calc questions. Once I started believing in myself again, I started to do much better on

quizzes and assignments.

In my classroom, I will implement many aspects of the social cognitive learning theory. I

will act as a model for my students by exhibiting positive behavior, which my students will pick

up on and start to imitate. One thing I hope to model effectively is respect. I will do this by

respecting every student, listening to their thoughts, and developing a relationship with them.

This will show them that I care for them and want every student to succeed. I will also reinforce

students when they are acting as models, in other words, I will use vicarious reinforcement.

When a student displays good behavior, I will praise the behavior in hopes that others will follow

along and display the behavior as well.

Another thing I will bring into my classroom is the four steps to observational learning. I

will grab students’ attention by making lessons fun and exciting. I will also relate topics to

something the students may already know, which will also help with the retention process.

Retention will also be encouraged through practice and meaningful learning. I will model skills

by providing various examples. Examples will help students when they are working through

various problems. If they become stuck, they can go back to the examples that I modeled and
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then they will hopefully be able to reproduce the skill themselves. Lastly, I will always keep

motivating my students, which includes building their self-efficacy. One way I will promote self-

efficacy is by providing students with feedback and letting them know when I think they are

doing a good job. Motivation and self-efficacy can also be built upon by relating the topic to

something they like and know how to do.

I will also promote self-regulation in my classroom. I will start by closely supporting

students and then eventually giving students more control over time and as they become more

independent (Ormrod & Jones, 2018). Other ways to promote self-regulation is to teach students

how to monitor their own performance and behavior. Students must be able to reflect on their

behaviors and performances, and then know how to improve to become effective self-regulating


The social cognitive learning theory can be broken down into a few key concepts,

including observational learning, reciprocal determinism, vicarious reinforcement, modeling,

self-regulation, and self-efficacy. At the core, social cognitive learning theory describes learning

as closely observing others. By being a positive model and promoting the concepts of the social

cognitive learning theory, I can foster student learning in my future classroom. I look forward to

being the positive model for my students.

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Bandura, A. (1971). Social learning theory. New York: General Learning Press.

Kretchmar, J. (2017). Social Learning Theory. Social Learning Theory -- Research Starters

Education, 1-13. Retrieved from ContentSelect Research Navigator.

McLeod, Saul. (2016). Bandura-Social Learning Theory. Simply Psychology. Retrieved 20

February 2018, from

Ormrod, J.E., & Jones, B. (2018). Essentials of Educational Psychology (5th ed.). New York,

NY: Pearson Education, Inc.