Social Learning


Infographic 1
Infographic 2
Learning Situation
Observation Checklist
Knowledge Base Front Page


Pavlov--infographic 1--social learning theory



Pavlov--infographic 2--I.D. theory based on social learning theory
Links from Infographic 2:
(1) The promo video of College Preparatory School (9 min.);
(2) Example of resources used in collaborative learning at the Edutopia website
(3) The promo video of the Lakefield Educator’s Apprenticeship Program (3.5 min.)



The teacher says, “Before we start, I will collect your home essays,” and then goes to each student and picks up his or her paper. Having collected them, he says, “Thank you. Now let’s talk about grammatical changes in Spanish adjectives. Please open your textbooks on page 93 for grammar reference.” Students open their textbooks and the teacher asks a female student to read the rule. She reads it, and then the teacher comes up to the blackboard, takes a piece of chalk and asks, “What’s the Spanish for ‘hard-working’?” Some students raise their hands, the teacher chooses one of them. One student translates: “Trabajador,” and the teacher replies, “Correct, very good!” He writes this Spanish word on the blackboard and spells out all forms of this adjective (singular/plural, masculine/feminine). He underlines the endings of adjectives and says, “Do you see the difference? This is what happens to an adjective depending on the noun that it describes”. He then asks, “Does anybody have questions?” The students shake their heads in the negative. He repeats the same activity with two other adjectives.

He then says, “Okay, now I want you to work in pairs of two and complete exercise 3.6 on page 94, where you have to insert the correct form of adjectives. We will then check answers together in 5 minutes.” Students work in groups of two. They discuss, some turn the textbook page back to the grammar reference in order to re-read the rule, and then discuss again. After 5 minutes the teacher says, “Alright, now let’s check this exercise together. Who wants to read sentence one?” A student rises his hand and reads the whole sentence with the correct form of the adjective. The teacher then says, “Correct,” and proceeds to another sentence. If a student is incorrect, he says, “This sentence is a bit tricky. It should be [and gives the correct answer].” When the exercise is over, the teacher asks, “Is everything clear to everybody? Any questions?” Some students say no, others just sit and watch. The teacher then says, “Okay then, it’s easy, right? [Smiles.] You will practice more in your homework tonight.”

Let’s take a look at this learning situation from the point of view of the social learning theory.

Pavlov--learning situation SOCIAL LEARNING

In this learning situation, key Social Learning Theory factors are in the picture. The instructor starts by providing an incentive to learn the topic—the new topic which will uncover all the secrets of Spanish adjectives. By reading the rules together, the instructor helps create a shared meaning among all students. The textbook is the basics; therefore, it is a common ground on which knowledge will be constructed later. The instructor employs modeling techniques both when we writes words on the blackboard and when he asks students to translate words into Spanish. In this way, other students have a chance to observe their peers coping with that on-the-spot task. Moreover, the instructor directly reinforces the student who answered correctly, but more importantly, it serves as a vicarious reinforcement for students in the classroom: They may want to model the behavior of their successful peer. The instructor chooses to explain the rule further on the blackboard, hence, he employs supporting techniques (scaffolding) to show a step-by-step process of how adjectives change in Spanish. Then comes the hands-on part, where students get involved in group work and rehearsal activities. They are active, they are involved, they discuss, they consult the grammar reference, they ask their peers—there is a lot of interaction happening. After the activity, students altogether check their answers and get vicariously reinforced of they answer correctly or provided with a coping model (a peer who at first answered incorrectly is helped to correct the mistake). 



Social learning observation check-list consists of 13 observation areas . To view the checklist, please click to open the enclosed document below:

Social Learning observation checklist_YP.pdf

Pavlov--SLT--observation Checklist
Screenshot of the observation checklist



Social Learning theory was the second best theory in my rankings after behaviorism. The reasons are manifold: (1) it explained a lot in my own learning; (2) it explains learning in convincing ways; (3) it places emphasis on learners’ abilities and reduces the authority of an instructor.

Social Learning theory explained a lot in my own learning before I started to teach Translation Studies. I had a tremendous course in my bachelor’s program—Biblical Studies. It was a totally lecture-based course, not a single seminar, not a single activity. Surprisingly, the charisma of the teacher was so magnificent that I involuntarily used the techniques from her teaching. Which were those? (1) When she chose to spell out a concept on the blackboard, she was never silent: she was writing and talking at the same time, so there was no awkward silence moments. (2) She told anecdotes intermittently—from her life, from her research experience, from her life experience, which allowed us to take a rest from the materials that we (she) talked about. (3) She was emotional in what she was doing, playing with her intonation and voice modulation. (4) She spoke in the most perfect Russian I have ever heard in my life before the university and after it, which made me realize that the way you talk is more powerful than the message. (5) She made eye contact with the audience effectively, as though she was talking to you personally. (6) Her speech was the opposite of a template, no trite words or metaphors, she was extremely skillful at flexing the muscles of the Russian language. (7) She loved poetry, and she knew how to share her passion with us during her lectures. The reason I’ve tried to list a few things that popped up in my head is because I saw that it was effective, I saw how 60 people in a lecture hall were transfixed listening to her and took notes. I wanted the same in my classes in Translation Studies, so I had to work hard on my speech and on planning the classes.

Not only this—I learned to cook pretty well after observing how my mom does it or my friends do it. I never discussed those things, had no formal training in this, but simple observation was the best teacher for this hands-on activity. I learned what I can or what I cannot say to people by observing the people who I considered models. I polished my style of writing by reading Oscar Wilde in translations (which are flawless in Russian). I learned to do Yoga asanas by imitating my trainer and learned to meditate by observing some models. What I’m trying to say is that Social Learning theory is so much deeper than I initially thought, maybe that is why it resonated with me instantly.

Our classes with Tiffany were in a lot of sense based in Social Learning theory. The content was presented only after a kind of discussion. Tiffany would ask a question (“Why do we study learning?”) and people would begin to respond: To pass exams, get skills, survive, thrive as a human race, acquire knowledge, pass down culture and traditions, enhance human existence, etc. We listen to each other, think about it, express our own opinions. Then Tiffany would press a button on her computer with the slide that provides another answer—another angle to the discussion: “Because we don’t know how it occurs,” concluding that the best guesses of how learning works are learning theories. Then, in every class there was group work. We created a shared meaning in those activities. I did not like them, particularly because my background is in the society where group work was not practiced, we literally acquired knowledge from teachers, textbooks, research, etc. without practicing the construction of knowledge. Here, on the contrary, I was able to see how different groups presented different solutions to the same problems as a result of what they have discussed together.

Social Learning theory seems very convincing for me, because its mechanism convinces me: We have person’s behavior, person’s perceptions, and environment. There three variables are intertwined, influence each other, and produce highly individual experience that will result in individual knowledge construction. And so, we all study history but some people happen to believe that Stalin is a hero and others believe he is a villain. Who is right? Both in their own ways, because social learning states that there are no absolute truths, knowledge as a construction is movable, it can change, it is never fixed. With this I agree strongly.

Finally, in Social Learning theory the emphasis is put on a learner, it’s all about the learner: S/he has to practice and rehearse material; s/he has to interact with peers or get scaffolding from a more experienced individual (teacher, tutor, mentor, master, etc.); s/he has to relate her or his experience with the background knowledge and re-construct it, or adjust it, or build on it. It is indeed a Lego game: you take small pieces (information) from the box (outside world) and build your own product (knowledge) out of it. Peers influence each other more than we can think through the process of modeling (direct or vicarious reinforcements). A few weeks ago I saw a wonderful representation of the Social Learning theory in action in the episode “Peer Pressure” of the Brain Games TV show (season 5, episode 8) produced by the National Geographic (fragment between 02:45–06:30).

Please, see the fragment between 02:45–06:30

To conclude, Social Learning theory is a great tool for understanding how learning occurs. The tenets that it has (people are social creatures, we seek meaning, we want interaction, everything changes, etc.) are plausible and can be transferred to the instructional theories which can prescribe what can be done to make learning more successful for learners. The ideas of self-efficacy and self-regulation are not addressed in behaviorism or cognitivism, yet these are essential concepts, because humans are living being that have beliefs, convictions, experience that affect their lives. The ideas of peer interactions and scaffolding are stupendous and proved to be effective.


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Master’s Program in IDD&E (20152016)
School of Education, Syracuse University
Email:       Syracuse, NY, USA (UTC –4)