Unravelling The Relevance Of Social Cognitive Theory in Online Learning

situated_cognition_in_elearning-_what_elearning_professionals_should_knowHave you ever encountered a situation where you have been forced to use a machine with no clue about how to run it - probably at a self-check-in counter at an airport that has its default language set to language you don’t know or a self-service kiosk for a tram that needs you to share information and money to print your ticket?

Thinking what would you do in such a situation? I bet most of you would try peep in, see what others are doing to take a cue. Although the situation is quite embarrassing, this proves an important point that we humans many times prefer to learn unfamiliar tasks based on ‘observation’. This leads us to the theory by psychologist Albert Bandura known as the ‘Social Cognitive Theory’.

What is Social Cognitive Theory?

Started as the ‘Social learning theory’ in the 1960s by Albert Bandura, it is widely used in psychology, education and communication domains. It states that an individual acquires a considerable chunk of knowledge by simply observing others in regard to social interactions, experiences etc.

The theory throws light on how when people see a model performing a specific behavior, based on their observation they use this information to guide subsequent behaviors. By simply watching a model, it also prompts the observer to engage in a behavior they have learned in the past.

With this theory in the background, we will highlight the utility of ‘vicarious learning’. In simple words, it means ‘learning by watching’. A vicarious learning design emphasizes on the basic human nature of ‘acquiring’ new behavior from the ‘models’ they watch and then re-enacting those behaviors when the situation demands.

Say for instance, if you teach interviewing skills by pairing learners and allowing them to interview each other. Most of them won’t go beyond the usual questions such as - “Tell me about yourself”, “Why do you think we should hire you”, “Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses” etc. But when learners are shown videos or asked to observe other interviews, they will be able to absorb the skills in a better way. It is likely that they will be able to understand how to uncover important personal characteristics of interviewees by developing hypothetical situations that they would relate to personally.

On-the-job learning follows this approach. Many times, new hires are paired with experienced employees during the initial few weeks or months so that they can understand how to react to specific situations more effectively as compared to reading an employee handbook.

How to Apply Social Cognitive Theory to eLearning?

Many of you may think that online learning is counter-intuitive to Social Cognitive theory because it is presented to the individual instead of a group of learners. However, technology does come in handy as it allows us to offer varied opportunities to use a social learning strategy in elearning.

Here are some of the important principles of Bandura’s theory and how they can be leveraged in an elearning setup.

Observational Learning

Do you prefer to visit YouTube when you want to learn something new online? Social learning theory says that humans learn by observing others the most. This can be in the form of someone physically displaying a behavior or even describing a specific task verbally.

How to use it in elearning: Both audio and video in online learning are capable of recreating this experience. The virtual classroom technology supports this function by allowing real-time teacher presentation and collaboration.

You can display videos of individuals performing specific job-related tasks and then make your users answer queries about what worked and what didn’t. Incorporate a movie clip that displays a specific issue you want the learner to watch. It can be followed up with interactive activities where learners discuss the situation. This can be done independently or by learning from actors in the movie.

Retention and Context

Are you aware that human beings learn by internalizing information in their memories and during the time of need to respond to a similar situation, they simply recall that information? Information is retained for a long time when it has a context and emotional connection. Social learning plays a key role in knowledge retention. When people discuss something important, they relate it to their personal experiences.

How to use it in elearning: There are varied opportunities for online learning to make people discuss and talk. There are learning management system (LMS) tools that come with built-in forums for ensuring smooth instructor-to-learner communication or even set up a page course-specific social media page or share it with learners. If your elearning is engaging, people will discuss it(which will ensure information is retained for a longer time duration).

Efficient use of storytelling is an excellent way to make elearning memorable. Hence, offer ample opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Motivation and Reward

Students learn better when they are motivated. According to Bandura’s social learning theory, motivation originates from being rewarded, as when we are in a similar situation, we will either follow or discard the behavior based on past experience.

How to use it in elearning: By adding gamification features to online learning, it is an excellent way to inspire students via rewards. This improves communication and makes learners more engaged.

State of Mind

Bandura has stated that it’s not external reinforcement that impacts learning and behavior, but also the internal reward ( intrinsic reinforcement) is key as well. The internal feeling of accomplishment comes only when a task has been successfully completed, boosting confidence level.

How to use it in elearning: In an online learning setup, creating challenging activities and implementing learning checks can offer intrinsic reinforcement. One can also offer the students with a personalized course completion certificates that can be downloaded or any other form of reward or recognition.

In other words, social learning improves the chances of success. Some of the key social features elearning tools may include are discussion groups, threaded discussions, group chats etc.

Future of social learning

The adoption of online social learning practices is rising at a consistent pace. According to the 2008 Annual Report on Corporate Training, structured collaboration is leveraged by about 70% of all organizations, thanks to the dramatic jump in the availability of online tools that support social learning.

Summing up

In today’s era, social learning isn’t just a buzzword. It is leveraged by forwarding looking businesses to foster collaborative learning and more importantly its use by the corporate. While there is a growing requirement for training that supports particular learning outcomes, there is a need to create platforms for social learning where students get an opportunity to connect, share, partner and even exchange ideas related to problem-solving.

Does your elearning tool support social learning? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


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About the author

Songbedna Bauri

Songbedna Bauri is an astute and result-oriented professional with several years of experience in Content Writing. She has been associated with some of the top names from corporate, MNC and media industry. Exposed to varied areas of copywriting, editing, communications, she can be defined by key qualities such as experienced-backed judgment, solid work ethic and irreproachable integrity. Songbedna is a voracious reader. Khaled Hosseini's shattering debut work, The Kite Runner moved her infinitely. She is a news buff, believes in impartial news analysis.


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