How to Apply Social Learning Theory for Effective eLearning

How to Apply Social Learning Theory for Effective eLearning

Have you recently looked at Bandura’s Social Learning Theory principles?

We are social creatures by nature. We like to interact with others, share ideas, and observe our fellow human beings. In fact, unless you’re a Himalayan yogi, long-term social isolation can have negative mental impacts.

It’s no surprise that social interaction plays a role in learning. Psychologist Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory states that people learn behavior from their environment through observation, imitation, and modeling. You might be thinking that eLearning is counterintuitive to this theory because it is presented to the individual rather than a group of learners. However, technology allows us to provide plenty of opportunities to implement a social learning strategy in eLearning.

Let’s look at some of the key principles of Bandura’s Social Learning Theory and how they can be applied in an eLearning context.

1. Observational learning
Where is the first place you go when you want to learn something new? My guess is YouTube. Social Learning Theory says that we learn through observation. This can take the form of someone physically demonstrating a behavior or task or describing a task verbally.

Video and audio in eLearning are powerful methods for re-creating this experience. Virtual classroom technology takes this one step further by allowing real-time teacher presentation, commenting, and collaboration.

2. Retention and context
We learn by internalizing information in our memories and when we are required to respond to a similar situation, we recall that information. What makes information memorable is attaching context and emotional connection and, you guessed it, social learning has a role in this too. When people start talking about something, they usually relate it to their personal experiences and when shared with other people, they connect with it too.

There are plenty of opportunities in eLearning to get people talking. Some LMS systems have built-in forums for instructor-to-learner communication, or you could set up a Facebook page for the course or tweet about it. If your eLearning is interesting and engaging, people will talk about it later, adding to the retention of information. Effective use of storytelling is another way to make your eLearning memorable. Provide opportunities for collaboration and encourage knowledge sharing and support among your learners.

3. Motivation and reward
Adult learners need to have a motivation for learning. Social Learning Theory suggests that motivation can originate from being rewarded or punished, as when we are in a similar situation, we will imitate or avoid the behavior based on our past experience.

Adding gamification principles to eLearning is a great way to inspire through reward. There’s nothing like a bit of healthy competition to get people talking; this could include office leader boards to encourage learner-to-learner communication.

4. State of mind
In Social Learning Theory, the state of mind is also crucial to learning. Bandura states that it’s not only external reinforcement that affects learning and behavior, but internal reward known as intrinsic reinforcement is also important. Internal reinforcement comes with feeling good after successfully performing a task or behavior, leading to a sense of accomplishment and increased self-confidence.

In eLearning, setting challenging activities and learning checks can provide intrinsic reinforcement. You could also provide learners with a personalized certificate of achievement, downloaded at the end of the course, or another form of recognition or reward.

It’s safe to say that with effective eLearning, your learners will never have an isolated learning experience. At PulseLearning, we create custom eLearning aligned to learning theory and principles, such as Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, and the specific business needs of your organization.


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