Social learning theory

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Social learning theory



Alternate name(s)

Observational Learning Theory

Note: SLT is used interchangeably with Social Cognitive Learning

Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Human Behavior

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

1. Cognitive Factors ( also called Personal Factors) -> Knowledge, Expectations, Attitudes

2. Environmental Factors -> Social Norms, Access in Community, Influence on Others (ability to change own environment)

3. Behavioral Factors -> Skills, Practice, Self-efficacy

Concise description of theory

Learning theories attempt to explain how people think and what factors determine their behaviour. Social Learning Theory (SLT) is a category of learning theories which is grounded in the belief that human behaviour is determined by a three-way relationship between cognitive factors, environmental influences, and behaviour. The theory is derived from the work of Gabriel Tarde (1843-1904) which proposed that social learning occurred through four main stages: close contact, imitation of superiors, understanding of concepts and role model behavior. The term ‘social’ in SLT refers to the context within which learning occurs.

Two types of behavior are identified in learning, respondent and operant. Respondent behaviour is learned through prior cues and is generally thought of as emotional. Behaviour that changes the environment, thereby producing rewards or punishments for the actor, is termed operant. The component processes underlying observational learning are:

1.Attention, including modelled events (distinctiveness, affective valence, complexity, prevalence, functional value) and observer characteristics (sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set, past reinforcement),

2.Retention, including symbolic coding, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, motor rehearsal),

3.Motor Reproduction, including physical capabilities, self-observation of reproduction, accuracy of feedback, and

4.Motivation, including external, vicarious and self reinforcement.

Because it (learning) encompasses attention, memory and motivation, SLT spans both cognitive and behavioural frameworks. The principles associated with SLT are as follows:

1.The highest level of observational learning is achieved by first organizing and rehearsing the modelled behaviour symbolically and then enacting it overtly. Coding modelled behaviour into words, labels or images results in better retention than simply observing.

2.Individuals are more likely to adopt a modelled behaviour if it results in outcomes they value.

3.Individuals are more likely to adopt a modelled behaviour if the model is similar to the observer and has admired status and the behaviour has functional value.

Source 1:,

Source 2: As mentioned in ‘Seminal Articles’ and ‘External Links’ sections

Diagram/schematic of theory


Originating author(s)

Julian Rotter, Albert Bandura

Seminal articles

Bandura, A., 1968. A social learning interpretation of psychological dysfunctions. In: Longon, D., Rosenham, D. (Ed),Foundations of abnormal psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, pp. 293– 344.

Bandura, A., Walters, R., 1963. Social Learning and Personality Development. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Bandura, A., 1969. Social-learning theory of identificatory processes. In: Goslin, D.A. (Ed), Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research, Rand McNally, Chicago, IL.

Bandura, A., 1977. Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs (NJ): Prentice-Hall.

Davis. T.R.V., Luthans, F., 1980. A social learning approach to organizational behaviour. Academy Management Review, vol. 5, 281-290.

Miller, N., Dollard, J., 1941. Social Learning and Imitation. Yale University Press.

Rotter, J.B., 1945. Social Learning and Clinical Psychology. Prentice-Hall.

Rotter, J.B., 1960. Some implications of a social learning theory for the prediction of goal directed behaviour from testing procedures. Psychology Review, vol. 67, 301-316.

Originating area

Psychology & Criminology

Level of analysis

Individual, Group

IS articles that use the theory

Compeau, D., Higgins, C., 1995. Computer self-efficacy: Development of a measure and initial test. MIS Quarterly, 19(2), 189-211.

Grant, D.M., Malloy, A.D., Murphy, M.C., 2009. A Comparison of Student Perceptions of their Computer Skills to their Actual Abilities. Journal of Information Technology and Education, vol. 8, 141-160.

Santhanam, R., Sasidharan, S., Webster, J., 2008. Using Self-Regulatory Learning to Enhance E-Learning-Based Information Technology Training. Information Systems Research, 19(1), 26 - 47.

Yi, M.Y., Davis, F.D., 2003. Developing and Validating an Observational Learning Model of Computer Software Training and Skill Acquisition. Information Systems Research, 14(1), 146 - 169.

Alavi, M., Marakas, G.M., Yoo, Y., 2002. A Comparative Study of Distributed Learning Environments on Learning Outcomes. Information Systems Research, 13(4), 404 - 415.

Marakas, G.M., Yi, M.Y., Johnson, R.D., 1989. The Multilevel and Multifaceted Character of Computer Self-Efficacy: Toward Clarification of the Construct and an Integrative Framework for Research. Information Systems Research, 9(2), 126 - 163.

Arcy, J.D., Hovav, A., Galletta, D., 2009. User Awareness of Security Countermeasures and Its Impact on Information Systems Misuse: A Deterrence Approach. Information Systems Research, 20(1), 79 - 98.

Links from this theory to other theories

1. Actor-network theory

2. Organizational learning

3. Social Cognitive Theory (often used interchangeably with SLT)

4. Cognitive Behavioral Theory

5. Social Inoculation Theory

6. Social Influence Theory

7. Rational Emotive Theory

External links, Handbook of organizational learning and knowledge, Discussion on Observational Learning

Original Contributor(s)

Mahdieh Taher, Satish Krishnan

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