Social-Cognitive Learning Theory: Definition and Examples

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  • 0:12 Introduction
  • 0:40 Social-Cognitive Theory
  • 3:59 Modeling
  • 7:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Hurst
Have you learned behaviors or skills from observing others? Maybe you have learned from observing a teacher, friend, or supervisor. We acquire new knowledge and skills from a variety of methods. This lesson will introduce the concepts of the social-cognitive theory, which focuses on the learning that occurs within a social context.


Do you know how to do the Electric Slide dance? Come on…admit it. Even if you aren't proud of knowing it, you probably learned the dance at some point in time. Do you remember how you learned it? I doubt you read each step in a book and then tried it alone. You probably observed others dancing and then joined in when you thought you had a good understanding of the moves. There are many ways to gain new knowledge and learn behaviors and skills, and observation is one method.

Social Cognitive Theory

The social-cognitive theory is a theoretical perspective in which learning by observing others is the focus of study. Social-cognitive theory is grounded by several basic assumptions.

One is that people can learn by observing others. Learners can acquire new behaviors and knowledge by simply observing a model. A model is a person who demonstrates behavior for someone else. In our Electric Slide example, the observer watched the models perform the dance in order to learn it.

Assumption two: learning is an internal process that may or may not lead to a behavior. Learning may not occur immediately. The observer could process the new behavior, but his/her learning may not be affected until a later point or never at all. In our dance example, it may take our observer multiple parties at which the Electric Slide is being danced until he joins in, or he may never join in.

There's also an assumption of goal-directed behavior. Social-cognitive theorists propose that people set goals for themselves and direct their behavior accordingly. They are motivated to accomplish those goals. In our dance example, the observer is motivated to learn the dance or else he wouldn't be observing it time and time again. In the classroom, learners are motivated by goals, such as a high GPA, popularity with classmates or even being the class clown. These goals direct behavior.

Another assumption of the social-cognitive theory is behavior eventually becomes self-regulated. Social-cognitivists, unlike behaviorists, believe that people eventually begin to regulate their own learning and behavior. Let's take our dancer for example. Behaviorists would say the best way for him to learn the dance would be through continual reinforcement from other people encouraging him to continue to improve. Social-cognitivists theorists, however, would say that he should observe the models, perfect his own moves, and compare them to the models moves. And then, give himself a pat on the back when he has mastered the entire dance.

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