Educational Psychology: What does the Social Learning Theory entail? How is it applied in the teaching process?


2c i). Identify the place of the Social Learning Theory in today’s classroom.

Social Learning Theory

This type of learning is also referred to as observational learning. The theory is based on the belief that people acquire knowledge, belief, attitudes, and values through observing others in their social world, (Atkinson, 1990). Children observe their parents, siblings, teachers, teachers and community figures, and imitate what they see.

This theory was developed by Albert Bandura, (1986,1977), Bandura believed that traditional behavioral views of learning although accurate were incomplete because they gave only partial explanation of learning. The behavioral theories overlooked important elements because they ignored social influences on learning, (Woolfolk, 1998).

According to the Bandura’s theory, people learn new behaviors through two types of observational learning namely: Vicarious conditioning and Modeling.

Vicarious conditioning

Let us look at vicarious conditioning. This is learning that occurs when the child observes another child’s behavior and its consequences. For example, a young sibling could observe an older sibling being praised or rewarded for demonstrating positive behavior patterns like obedience, obedience, hard work, honesty and good grooming or even excellence in field events.

In vicarious conditioning, the learner is the young sibling who will be motivated to engage in the behavior the older sibling is rewarded or praised. This child tries to excel in that behavior in order to be treated like the older sibling. The younger sibling can also observe the older sibling being punished for bad behavior like cheating, bullying others, laziness, poor grooming and so on. The younger sibling watches as the older sibling suffers as he carries out the punishment or as he takes blame from either the parents or the teachers.

The younger sibling learns to avoid all those behaviors the older sibling is punished for. He learns to behave differently in order to be praised or rewarded instead of being punished.

Application of vicarious conditioning to school

From vicarious conditioning, we learn the importance of exposing learners to models of good behavior. At the same time we ensure that, when good behavior occurs it should not be ignored. It should be rewarded in order to encourage its occurrence and its spread to other children. When good behavior is ignored it dies out. To avoid this the teacher should recognize the efforts that learners are making and reinforce them so that they are strengthened and given the chance of being observed and emulated by other learners.


Modeling refers to learning through direct observation. It involves a model and an observer. The model may be the father, mother, sibling, teacher, or peer, while the observer is the learner. The model demonstrates behavior, which the learner imitates. The behavior could be mannerisms, gestures, dressing style, language use, walking style, display of aggression, manner of working, attitudes and even values. In order to acquire any of the above behaviors the observer watches the model demonstrate the behavior and practices it.

The process of behavior acquisition

For the observer to acquire the behavior and demonstrate it just like the model he must do the following things:

  • Attend the behavior. That is, see it, hear and even experience it.
  • The behavior must be retained. This means that it must be stored in memory.
  • The behavior must be produced. In order to produce the behavior, it must be practiced well until it is perfected.
  • The behavior must be motivated and reinforced. This means that for the behavior to be produced there must be an incentive. Good incentives could be, complement, encouragement or even tangible rewards.


To apply the concept gained from the modeling theory the teacher should do the following.

Become models of good behavior like good grooming, punctuality, handwork, positive attitudes, responsibility, honesty and so on.

The teacher should recognize models of good behavior from among the students and reinforce them positively.

The teacher should also invite models of the desired behavior from the community to come and speak to the students. For example, models of women who earn a living through mathematics, physics, chemistry or even biology can be invited to talk to the girls and encourage them to take these subjects seriously and also to confirm to them that women can actually excel in them.


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