Key Concepts of the Social Learning Theory

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Social Learning Theory relates to how people can learn by observing others. The theory is centered around the fact that all of humanity's beliefs and knowledge come from the way the world works around people. It advances the idea that people learn from other people, or that everything we know has no meaning without other people showing us what that meaning is. In addition, the theory propagates that others' reactions to our behaviors have an effect on how we construct our own knowledge.

1 Expectation

Expectation is the first key concept of Social Learning Theory. Expectation means that a person's knowledge has much to do with what he expects out of society, and his beliefs are related to what he believes the outcomes of his actions will be. In other words, he expects something to happen, and this is the base of his knowledge about society. For instance, the peace sign in the United States might get a smile in return, but in some other countries, the person would know not to use the sign because it means something different and perhaps might even be rude. Therefore, he would expect someone to react harshly, and he wouldn't use the peace sign.

2 Observational Learning

Observational learning means that the individual bases his knowledge on observing others in society. A person will tend to notice others' behaviors and base his own behaviors on the behaviors of those around him. Everything he knows comes from how he has seen those in his inner circle behave. Think about the word "water." What meaning does it have if people around him don't identify that bluish liquid substance as water? If everyone else called water by another name, that's what the individual would name it, too.

3 Behavioral Capability

Behavioral capability refers to the fact that a person's knowledge is needed to influence his behavior. While the behavior of others might be an influence on him, his own behavior won't be influenced until he has gathered knowledge about the subject. His knowledge will lead him to his decisions about his behavior. For example, if the individual in the example above doesn't realize yet that the peace sign has a different meaning in a different culture, he might continue to flash it until someone reacts negatively, thereby changing his knowledge about the peace sign. Afterward, he would no longer flash it in a country where it has a hostile or rude meaning, so his behavior has been affected by his knowledge.

4 Self-Efficacy

Self-Efficacy is the individual's faith in himself. If a person has faith in his own knowledge base, he is more likely to act according to that knowledge base. He is likely to point out his beliefs and his actions when he is confident in his knowledge. Again, using the example of the peace-sign flasher, if he has only one person react rudely to his peace sign the first day in a new culture, he might begin to understand that it's a negative sign in his new culture. However, over time, if more people react rudely to it than not, he will gain confidence in his knowledge and adjust it accordingly.

5 Reciprocal Determinism

Reciprocal Determinism is a two-way concept of communication and social learning. It is based on how people will alter their behavior once they interact with others. When a person affects his own behavior because of an interaction with another, he shows his ability to adapt to the world around him. If he has one group of friends in an academic setting and one group of friends in a social setting, for example, he has the possibility of having two different sets of knowledge about people because of the way he interacts with each. With his college friends, he might have more intelligent, academic-based conversation, while with his social friends, he would tend to discuss places they might go or concerts they might attend. His knowledge is altered with both groups because of the interaction he has with each.

6 Reinforcement

Reinforcement is the last key concept in Social Learning Theory. Reinforcement is the idea that the individual's behavior will be affected by how others react to his behavior. For instance, if a person lives in a region where kissing someone's cheek upon meeting him is normal, his behavior would be reinforced and he would continue to do it. If that person then moved to a region where kissing upon meeting is not normal, that behavior would be discouraged, and the person would discontinue the behavior.

Emma LaGrone is a professional writer who lives in Texas and graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American with a journalism degree in 2006. She began her career as a freelance writer with community newspapers in the Edinburg and San Antonio, Texas areas. LaGrone currently works for a weekly community newspaper in San Antonio and specializes in community business reporting.