Social Learning Theory: Practical Tools

Social Learning Theory - Practical Tools

How to turn social learning theory into a useful resource

What is Social Learning Theory?

Dating back to the work of psychologist Albert Bandura, social learning theory combines two of the field’s most prominent theories of learning: cognitive and behavioural. Cognitive learning describes learning in terms of psychological processes, whereas behavioural learning claims major influences on learning are environmentally based. These influences can be drawn from our daily lives, but are often the result of conditioning from formative childhood experiences.

Social learning theory brings these two approaches together, claiming that learning takes place within a social context. This results in the idea that new skills or information can be learned through observation alone, and that learning within a social environment helps us gain a more complete understanding of concepts.

To see this theory in practice, Bandura conducted a series of studies known as the Bobo Doll experiments. In the experiments, researchers demonstrated aggressive behaviours towards a doll in the presence of preschool children. The children later imitated the researchers’ behaviour, attacking the dolls in the same way. The children displayed this behavior without any instruction or encouragement to do so.

‘Learning takes place within a social context.’

In more everyday situations, we see examples of social learning all around us. From the way ideas raised in a meeting or classroom can quickly spread throughout a group, to the speed with which digital innovations are adopted in our society. Social learning can even be found in animals, such as the case of a population of blue-tits using social learning to teach each other how to open milk bottle tops.

Social Learning in Educational Environments

From these examples, it’s clear how social learning offers benefits to course designers. By using the social aspects of a classroom, instructors can help students and colleagues to gain a more integrated understanding of content, in a more natural and efficient way.

Within an instructional course, social learning is most likely to occur through a dynamic shift, from an instructor-led scenario to one that prioritizes peer-to-peer communication. This can be approached in a number of ways. One strategy is to create a flipped classroom, in which instructors “move the delivery of material outside of formal class time.” This allows course time to be used for discussion, collaboration and interaction with materials.

‘Discussion, collaboration and interaction.’

Other strategies for encouraging peer-to-peer communication include creating scenarios in which group members teach other members, allowing everyone in the class to contribute their knowledge. The benefits of these approaches over traditional learning styles are significant, however, social learning course designs can also have their difficulties. Encouraging peer-to-peer interaction risks classes losing focus, with a freer environment making topics more likely to drift, and student concentration to wander.

Integrating Social Learning

So, given the benefits of a social learning approach, how can we integrate this theory into course designs, while at the same time maintaining focus and attention in the classroom?

Here are three examples of teaching activities that integrate social learning, using learning tools from Lambda Solutions, a recognized leader in eLearning technology and leading open source learning management systems expert.

Teaching ProgramSocial Learning AspectLearning Tool
A discussion-based seminar about course materials.Face-to-face communication is a key part of encouraging social learning. Seminars allow students to contribute and discuss content within a highly social context.Digital tools such as video conferencing allows easy face-to-face communication from anywhere with an internet connection.
An out-of-class learning activity that leads to in-class interaction.A flipped classroom means that students have a greater opportunity to use social learning within scheduled class time. Providing effective home learning tools is integral to this approach.The flexible features of Learning Management Systems allow 24/7 access to courses and content. Materials can be accessed from anywhere learners have Internet access, giving them the freedom to learn on their own time.
A group research and presentation project.Encouraging classes to work together gives students the opportunity to enact social learning. Combining different group skills, such as researching and presenting, is an excellent way of doing this.Collaborative learning tools, such as Wiki’s, workshops, forums, surveys, chats, and feedback functions, enable collaborative learning.

Do you have any other ideas for integrating social learning into your lesson plans? Why not get in touch, and let us help you realize your lesson and course designs.

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Disclaimer: This article was contributed by guest blogger Joe Hitchcock. The views and opinions expressed belong to the guest blogger alone, and do not necessarily reflect the official policies or opinions of Lambda Solutions.

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