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Social Learning Theory developed from other learning and behavioural theories developed across the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Albert Bandura built upon the work of others, including Burrhus Skinner, to present his most coherent description of social learning theory in 1977. Social learning theory puts greater emphasis on observation and imitation than previous, more behaviourist theories that place greater emphasis on internal factors.

Social learning theory posits that humans learn through observing others' behaviour and the reactions to those observed behaviours. Bandura stated that:

  • Learning is not purely behavioural; rather, it is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context
  • Learning can occur by observing a behaviour and by observing the consequences of the behaviour (vicarious reinforcement)
  • Learning involves observation, extraction of information from those observations, and making decisions about the performance of the behaviour (observational learning or modelling). Thus, learning can occur without an observable change in behaviour
  • Reinforcement plays a role in learning but is not entirely responsible for learning
  • The learner is not a passive recipient of information. Cognition, environment, and behaviour all mutually influence each other (reciprocal determinism)

As STH uses the social environment as a mechanism for outcomes, social learning theory (alongside other learning theories) can support the practitioner to make sense of the social environment and support it towards a predictably positive state. The practitioner, through this theory, should be aware of their own behaviour but perhaps even more importantly, their response to the behaviour of others as the de facto leader.

Reference: Bandura, Albert B. (1977). Social Learning Theory. ISBN 978-0138167516