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Social Learning: The What and the Why

What comes to mind when you see Social Learning? Is it learning with others? Learning via social media? Over 50 years ago the psychologist Albert Bandura first proposed the social learning theory (SLT). Built upon theories of behavioural learning, the SLT posits that behaviour is learned via reinforcement and modelling of others. 

Watching, listening, and doing

Bandura later re-established the SLT, adding a recognition for the importance of observation. In a nutshell, the SLT states that we learn by watching, listening and doing. This process of obtaining knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and our senses, allows for nuanced education reproduction or reinforcement. However, this is not to say that the learner is passive. The learner influences and is influenced by, their environment and behaviour. For example, a friend who enjoys playing a game will encourage others to play as well. 

The Foundation of social learning

Social Learning is further impacted by Bandura’s Four Principles of Social Learning, which are the necessary conditions under which any sort of observing and modelling behaviour takes place. The four principles are:

  • Attention – The environment in which the student is learning and its influence on their attention span
  • Retention – the ability of the participant to retain an observed event or behaviour. 
  • Reproduction – the ability to imitate behaviour
  • Motivation – the level of willingness to practise a newly observed behaviour.

Feedback, feedback, feedback

Every directed attempt at learning has the attainment of something as its goal. Feedback is the metric used to measure progress towards and achievement of, the established goal. Constructive and effective feedback will provide the student with a confidence boost, encouraging them to keep learning. Another reason external feedback is important is that when a student attempts to do something alone, their ability to retain an observed event or behaviour is limited. Making use of feedback allows the student to self-correct, creating space for adjustments, as needed. Engaging the students in monitoring their own progress in a socially supportive atmosphere also works to increase their motivation. When an individual is given control over their learning it often creates a positive impact on their attitude. 

Social learning produces better results than traditional methods

Why is this important? Traditional education encourages students to memorise their material in order to regurgitate it for an exam. But how effective is this really? When thinking of your own experiences, how much did you retain afterwards? This approach does not allow people to get the most out of their education, and more and more research demonstrates that it is increasingly outdated. The research goes on to show  that watching, listening and doing is the best way to retain information. Understanding this allows us to leverage the style of learning to create an atmosphere in which students can get the most out of their education. 

Social Learning, the quick, and cheap, approach to creating lasting behavioural change

At Language Partners, the Social Learning Exchange has been developed. This involves a combination of lessons with a trainer, e-learning assignments, engagement with others in a guided forum, and repeated opportunities for feedback. By offering an interactive and engaging education, the Social Learning Exchange allows for a deeper saturation of the material. This approach saves time and money while offering a wide variety of activities, assignments and conversations, allowing for the interactions that are desperately needed to truly develop new skills. If you’d like to the courses we teach in this way, you can take a look at both our language and culture trainings.

Paul Van Zanten
Paul is an American intercultural communications professional living in the Netherlands and connecting with his Dutch roots. With a passion for travel, as well as gaining new perspectives and experiences, Paul aims to further his growth, as well as that of others at Language Partners.

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