Training of trainers – NFL and interactive methods in Youth work – ACHIEVE

Lesson 8 – Social Learning Theory – text

text lesson

The approach to social learning of Albert Bandura compliments the social learning theory of Roter. Bandura explains the ways in which people acquire a variety of complex behaviors in a social environment. His main idea is learning by observation.

Basic concepts

Bandura believes that there is a reciprocal relationship between the behavior, personality variables and variables of the environment. People are not just driven by internal forces, nor are pawns in the hands of some phenomena of the environment. We are being influenced, but in turn also we exert influence. Bandura says that the vast majority of learning in humans includes modelling, observation and imitation. In fact, he argues that huge part of human learning happens without the usual backup, which requires the principles of operant and classical conditioning. People can learn also in absence of rewards and punishments. This does not mean that the backup is irrelevant. In fact, once the behavior is learned, backup is very important in determining whether it will appear.

Cognitive focus

In order to explain the phenomena of learning through observation, Bandura assumes that we use symbolic representations of the events of the environment. Without such symbolic activity it is difficult to explain the extraordinary flexibility of human behavior. His thesis is that the behavioral changes that occur through both classical and instrumental conditioning and by damping and punishment are actively mediated by cognition. Critical for human behavior are also the self-regulatory processes. People regulate their behavior by imagining consequences. Thus, the relationship between the stimulus and response are influenced by these processes of self-control.


Behaviorism focuses primarily on experimental methods and on the variables that we can observe, measure and change. It avoids all that is subjective, internal, not subject to measurement – i.e. mental or spiritual. By the experimental method, the standard procedure is to amend a variable and then to measure the effect it has on other variable. Thereby, it is laying the foundations of the theory of personality, according to which environment shapes the attitude.

Bandura considers this as overly simplistic especially in terms the phenomenon, which he observes – aggression in adolescents. He decided to add something to the formula: he agrees that environment forms the behavior, but adds on that behavior can also shape and change the environment. This is how the idea of reciprocal determinism was born. The behavior of the world to human and that of the human to the world are interrelated.

After a while Bandura goes even further. He began to consider personality as an interaction among three “things”: environment, behavior and psychological processes. These psychological processes are embedded in our ability to build and use images in our mind and language. By the moment he introduces the idea of ​​images, Bandura is no more a strict behaviorist and enters the field of cognitivism. In fact, he is often considered as the “father” of the cognitive movement!

Adding images and language to the established essence, allows him to theorize much more efficiently than someone like, say, Skinner, on two things, considered by many to be the “strong hand” of the human species: learning by observation (modelling) and self-control.

Learning through observation and modeling

Among the hundreds of studies Bandura made, one group rises above the rest – research with the Bobo doll. Bandura made a film with one of his female students, young woman hitting Bobo doll. In case you do not know, Bobo doll is an inflatable doll in the shape of an egg, which has weight at the bottom, so if you hit and knock it, it stands up alone. Nowadays it can be painted with the image of Darth Vader, but in those times it was simply the Bobo-clown.

The woman from the movie was hitting the clown, screaming, kicking it, sitting on it, imposed it with his little hammer, etc., shouting various aggressive phrases. Bandura showed this film to a group of children in the kindergarten and as you might guess, a lot of them liked it. Then they let the children play. In the playroom, of course, attended several observers handed with pens and notepads, brand new Bobo doll and several small hammers.

You can guess what the observers have recorded: many small children outrageously beating up the Bobo doll. They hit and kicked it, screamed at it, sat on it and imposed it with their little hammers, etc. In other words, they imitated the actions of the young lady from the movie pretty good.

This may not seem like an experiment at first, but consider: These children changed their behavior without earlier being awarded for imitating the actions of the woman in the movie! And while this story may not sound unusual for the average parent, teacher or observer of children, it does not fit particularly standard, existing at the time of behavioral learning theory. Bandura named this phenomenon “learning by observation” or “modelling” and his theory is usually called “the theory of social learning.”

He makes a large number of variations of the study: the model is rewarded or punished in various ways, children are encouraged to imitate, the model changes becoming more attractive or less prestigious, etc. In response to criticism that Bobo dolls were invented to be hit, Bandura even makes a movie with a young woman hitting a real clown. When children go to another room, they found there a real clown! Although, this was no longer a doll, they continued to beat him, kicked, tossed with small hammers, etc.

All these options help Bandura to find out that there are some steps in the modelling process:

  1. Attention. If you learn something, you have to be careful. Also, all that mutes attention leads to reduced learning including learning by observation. For example, if you are sleepy, tired, sick, nervous or excited, you will not learn as well. The same applies if you are distracted by competing stimuli.

Some things that affect the level of attention include the characteristics of the model. If the model is colorful and dramatic, for example, we pay more attention to it. It is the same if the model is attractive, prestigious, or appears very capable. Furthermore, if the model looks similar to yourself, it is more likely that you pay more attention. These kinds of variables directed Bandura to study the effects of television on children!

  1. Retention/Memory. Secondly, you should be able to retain, i.e. save what you have payed attention to. Here the images and language are highlighted: we store what we have seen the model doing in the form of mental images or verbal descriptions. After being stored this way, you can later take out an image or description, so that you replicate it with your own behavior.
  2. Initiation/Motor. Up to this point you just sit and fantasize. You have to turn the images and descriptions in real action. Therefore, it is necessary first to have the ability to initiate such behavior. I can watch the Olympic figure skaters all day and still I cannot perform their jumps, because I cannot even skate! On the other hand, if I could skate, my performance would be improve after I have watched skaters better than me.

Another important aspect of initiation is that our ability to imitate improves by exercising being ‘switched on’. Moreover: our skills improve even when we only imagine how we do it! Many athletes, for example, imagine in detail their actions during the race long before it begins.

  1. Motivation. And even with all these factors, you would not do anything unless you are motivated to imitate, i.e. until you have a reason to do it. Bandura mentions several motives:

Previous empowerment (according to traditional behaviorism);

Promised empowerment (encouragement) – which we imagine;

Foreign empowerment – when we see or hear how other people’s model was supported.

Note that those are traditionally considered as factors that “cause” learning. But according to Bandura those reasons cause not so much learning as they provoke us to demonstrate what we have learned.

Of course, negative motivation can also occur by giving you reasons not to imitate someone:

Previous punishment;

Promised punishment (threats);

Foreign punishment

Like most traditional behaviourists Bandura also says that punishment in all its forms, is not as effective as empowerment, and in fact it has even a tendency to backfire.


Self-control or the control over our own behavior is the other “cornerstone” of the human person. Bandura states three stages:

  1. Self-observation – observe self, our behaviour and monitor its development.
  2. Assessment. We compare what we see to some standard. For example, we can compare our performance to traditional standards, such as the rules of good behavior. Or we can create our own relative standards, such as: “I will read one book per week.” Also we can compare with others.
  3. Response to self. If you do well in comparison to the standard, you give yourself a positive response. If you perform worse – the response is punishment. These responses to self can range from the obvious (to award yourself with ice cream or work late) to a hidden (to feel pride or shame).

Very important idea in psychology, which can be well explained by self-control, is the image of yourself (better known as the self-esteem). If over the years you find out that your responses to he standards of life bring you praise or reward, you will have a pleasant image of yourself (self-esteem). If, on the other hand, you notice that you always fail in your attempts to complete the standards – you tend to punish yourself and you will have bad self-image (self-esteem)

Remember that most behaviorists generally as an effecconsider empowerment as effective and punishment as problematic. The same applies for self-punishment. Bandura displayed three possible consequences of excessive self toss:

Compensation – for example, a complex of superiority or feeling powerful;

Inactivity – apathy, boredom, depression;

Escape – acceptance of drugs and alcohol, too much watching TV, closing in a world of fantasies or even the ultimate form of escapism – suicide;

These have some similarity to the unhealthy personalities Adler and Horney speak about: aggressive, obeying or avoiding type.

Bandura’s recommendation to those who suffer from poor self-image comes directly from three steps of self-control:

Relating to self-observation – know yourself! Make sure you have an accurate picture of your own behavior;

Relating to standards – make sure your standards are not too high. Do not bet failure from the very beginning! Standards that are too low on the other hand, are useless;

Related to the response to yourself – use rewards rather than punishments for yourself. Celebrate their victories, don’t live with failures.

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The training program “Training of Trainers” is an educational product that is currently missing in the partner countries – Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania. Due to the early stage of development of the youth sector and youth work in these countries the educational materials aimed at non-formal learning are still limited and insufficient. The lack of adequate educational framework for training of youth workers in the field of formal education leads to inefficient use of the capacity of professionals.

This course fills a gap in the youth sector, namely the need of methodologies for the preparation of trainers, who are able to train youth workers. This course will set the basis for the preparation of teams of trainers of youth workers. The course will serve the goal of development of youth work in the participating countries and other interested parties. A large number of youth workers can be trained according to the methodology at national and international level to use and promote non-formal learning as a tool to enhance the realization of young people in the labor market and increase their social cohesion.

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