Evolution of Social Learning Theory to Social Cognitive Theory
It is perhaps the evolution in Bandura’s own thinking that has resulted in significant changes to his theories over time. Increasingly cognitive in focus, Bandura’s theories now place less emphasis on the role of modeling and more on what he calls self-efficacy—beliefs and judgments about our abilities (Crain, 2000). (Hence Bandura’s decision to modify the theory title from social learning theory to social cognitive theory.) Self-efficacy, he believes, has a significant impact on motivation, such that an individual will work hard when she believes she is good at a task—such as math—even in the face of obstacles, but will put forth less effort and be more likely to give up when she doubts her abilities. Studies have demonstrated that students who believe they are good at a subject will perform better than those who don’t, even when actual ability levels are equal (Collins, 1982, as cited in Crain, 2000, p. 203). Although people might overestimate their abilities, Bandura believes “optimistic self-efficacy is beneficial,” especially in life that often presents “disappointments, setbacks, impediments, and inequities” (Crain, 2000, p. 203). [. . .]
Source: Kretchmar, J. (2015). Social learning theory. Research starters: Education. Copyright © EBSCO.
Bandura’s social learning theory, as well as his further developed social cognitive theory, embraces the idea that learning is affected by many variables. (See Reinforcing Your Understanding: The Bobo Doll Study to see footage of Bandura’s original studies.) Sometimes these variables are within a person’s control, and sometimes they are not. However, by being more mindful of what affects learning—such as the four components of observational learning (attention, retention, motor reproduction, and motivation/reinforcement)—we can address more readily why we may have difficulty learning something. Too often, we accept learning situations as they are, when being mindful or making an adjustment would make our learning more effective. However, learning, as was being discovered in the 20th century to the present, is a complex process and requires many considerations to be efficient at it. Often theories such as SLT and SCT offer us opportunities to fine-tune how we approach new learning opportunities.
Kretchmar (2015) noted that self-efficacy became an important variable to the social aspect of learning in Bandura’s SCT. This assertion can be quite confusing at first glance: Many assume that self-efficacy is about the person, not about the social environment. Yet, consider what environmental factors may affect your self-efficacy. For example, consider motor reproduction. If someone shows you how to do a cartwheel and you think it looks too difficult, and thus do not believe you have the capability to succeed, then this theory suggests that you would likely not succeed. However, as we will discuss in the following section, we do not always realize that it is our efficacy affecting the learning. If we believe we are good at something, and then do not do well, we often attribute this outcome to an outside force: poor parenting, a sleepless night, or a previous bad experience. If we believe we are bad at something and do well, perhaps we attribute the outcome to luck. It is this continuum of potential variables that will continue to push researchers in understanding more identifiable ways to positively affect successful and effective learning.