Social learning theory (SLT) is an essential component of sustainable natural resource management and the promotion of desirable behavioural change. SLT is based on the idea that we learn from:

  • our interactions with others in a social context;
  • by observing the behaviours of others, we:
    • develop similar behaviours;
    • assimilate and imitate that behaviour, especially if our observational experiences are positive ones or include rewards related to the observed behaviour.

According to the elements of this theory, there are three general principles for learning from each other. SLT posits that people learn from one another, via Observation, Imitation and Modelling. Also, SLT places a heavy focus on cognitive concepts – it is focused on how children and adults operate cognitively on their social experiences and how these cognitions then influence behaviour and development.

Based on SLT general principles (observation, imitation, modelling) learning can occur without a change in behaviour. In other words, behaviourists say that learning has to be represented by a permanent change in behaviour; while in contrast social learning theorists say that because people can learn through observation alone, their learning may not necessarily be shown in their performance. Learning may or may not result in a behaviour change.

In the beginning of building SLT, there was hypothesized that learning from observation occurred via an input-output, cognitive model. There have been suggested four processes that account for learning from observation:

  • attentional;
  • retention;
  • motor-reproduction;
  • motivational.

Primary Impact Factors of SLT in Learning Process 

The Role of Modelling – Modelling probably is the significant factor involved in the acquisition of the moral judgment repertoire. According to current research, no difference between the reward and no consequence models is observed, while the punished group model continues to yield different results. Behaviour change can and does occur through observation, even when such observation is incidental, occurring in the context of other activities. While this finding seems rather simple, it has significant implications for how we conceptualize learning.

The Role of Consequences – A model who was rewarded, a model who was punished, or a control condition (e.g., observing non-aggressive play or observing no consequences).Generally, less behaviour change is observed when a child observes a model being punished.

The Role of Verbal Behaviour – Increasing attention has been paid to the role of cognitive factors, often described with the terms coding and rehearsal. Generally, coding can be thought of as describing what is observed in some way, whereas rehearsal can be thought of as practicing what was observed. According to related research evidence, the role of ‘‘coding and rehearsal’’ is crucial on the acquisition of observed behaviour. Those individuals who verbally describe every action of the model are the most successful when tested for behaviour change at a later time. Importantly, this study highlights the early recognition of ‘‘cognitive’’ factors in observational learning. Developing a coded description of the models’ actions and practicing that description are both found to be important factors in the acquisition of observed behaviour. Physically practicing (‘‘motor rehearsal’’) the observed behaviours found to be less important. This seems to support a growing distinction between different aspects of an individual’s repertoire and the various processes that contribute to their existence.

Secondary Impact Factors in Learning Process 

Several factors influence teaching and learning per social learning perspectives: context, culture and community, and learner characteristics.

Context – Context is integral to how cognition facilitates understanding: Human interactions within Web-based learning environments WBLEs, as well as WBLE resources, help to initiate, sustain, and support associated social learning processes. Because cognition is not considered an individual process, learning and knowing are shaped by the kinds of interactions a student has with others, and the context within which these interactions occur.

Interactions – From a social learning perspective, knowledge is constructed while individuals are engaging in activities, receiving feedback, and participating in other forms of human interaction in public, social contexts

Modelling – Another characteristic of social learning theories is that of modelling. A model is a pattern or example that is provided to a student to illustrate how one might behave.

 Culture – The influence of culture during online learning has been primarily explored through two lenses: gender and ethnicity.

Community – WBLE researchers and designers have identified potentially important relationships between perceived sense of community and perceived learning processes collaborative learning.

Group Size – Group size and peer collaboration also appear to influence the quality of WBLE interactions. Caspi, Gorsky, and Chajut (2003) examined the effect of group size on asynchronous discussion groups.

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