What is Social Learning? (+Tips to Integrate in Learning Programs)

What is social learning? It’s the simple yet profound process by which we mimic and internalize the behaviors of those within our social circles, from family to colleagues. This guide cuts straight to the core of how social learning shapes our actions and beliefs, taking you beyond theory to explore its powerful presence in everyday experiences and its pivotal application in education and professional development.
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What you'll learn in this article:

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What is social learning? It’s the simple yet profound process by which we mimic and internalize the behaviors of those within our social circles, from family to colleagues. This guide cuts straight to the core of how social learning shapes our actions and beliefs, taking you beyond theory to explore its powerful presence in everyday experiences and its pivotal application in education and professional development.

What we will explore together:

  • Social learning theory is rooted in the work of Albert Bandura. It posits that learning is a social process that occurs through observation and imitation, heavily influenced by environmental and cultural factors.
  • Observational learning, a cornerstone of social learning involves crucial cognitive processes such as attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation, all of which are facilitated through Disco's engaging community features.
  • By leveraging Bandura’s principles of social learning, Disco has become an indispensable tool in domains such as education, professional development, and virtual learning environments. It underscores the importance of technology, biological factors, and the availability of positive role models to shape learning experiences.

Social Learning Definition

Comprehensive social learning theory, which shares some similarities with social cognitive theory, is like a dance, where observation and imitation take center stage. It moves beyond the notion that learning is merely an internal, individual process, and highlights how we acquire new behaviors through observation and imitation of others within a social context.

Imagine a dance class, where students learn new steps not just from their instructor but also from their peers. They observe, they imitate, and they learn.

This dance of learning isn’t always conscious either. Much like the rhythm that you unconsciously tap your feet to, social learning can occur without the learner even realizing it.

But not all dance floors are the same. The environment and culture play a significant role in shaping this learning process. Creating an inclusive learning environment, like a welcoming dance floor, can foster a competitive atmosphere and support learning through interaction and observation.

The Roots of Social Learning Theory

Just like a well-choreographed dance, social learning theory didn’t just happen overnight. It was developed over time, with Albert Bandura playing the lead role. His pioneering work laid the groundwork for social learning theory, rooting it in the concept of observational learning.

Interestingly, the roots of social learning theory were being laid as early as the 19th century. Cornell Montgomery, a forerunner in this field, outlined four phases of learning that underscored the importance of environmental interaction and imitation of human behavior.

  1. Intimate interaction with one's surroundings.
  2. The act of observing and emulating the behaviors of others.
  3. Developing a conceptual grasp of the observed behaviors.
  4. Establishing a repertoire of behaviors to replicate.

What is Observational Learning?

Observational learning is the core mechanism of social learning, functioning like the engine in a car, propelling us forward. This process involves individuals absorbing new human behaviors by keenly watching and emulating others, often doing so without active deliberation. It's akin to learning how to drive by observing a seasoned driver navigate the streets skillfully.

The influential Bobo Doll Experiment by Bandura cast a spotlight on the significant influence of the social environment and individual motivations in observational learning. Just as a novice driver may adopt driving techniques that appear effective and safe, individuals often replicate behaviors that seem advantageous.

This could be to assimilate into a group, earn approval, or acquire skills that are useful in practical situations.

The Role of Models in Learning

In the journey of observational learning, models are akin to driving instructors. They provide direction, demonstrate the skills to be mastered, and set an example to follow. These models can be direct, such as a person demonstrating the behavior, or indirect, like instructions from a manual or a story that illustrates the behavior.

Illustration of a person observing and imitating another individual

The conduct of a model is pivotal in observational learning. It can shape an observer's actions, highlighting the importance of constructive modeling. It's like a learner driver being influenced by a driving instructor’s adherence to road safety rules.

Moreover, an observer is more inclined to emulate a model's behavior if they see a resemblance with themselves, such as age or shared experiences. It’s like a learner driver finding inspiration in a driving coach who once was also a beginner.

Cognitive Processes Involved in Observation

Observational learning isn't just mimicking what one sees; it also encompasses a cognitive process. Consider the analogy of learning to drive:

  1. You don't merely copy the maneuvers, you need to remember the road rules. This is where cognitive factors first.
  2. Encoding, a cognitive operation where the observed behavior is mentally processed, enables the organization and retention of this behavior in one's cognitive theories.
  3. It’s like internalizing the steps of parallel parking one by one.

The motor reproduction phase of observational learning is where the practial application takes place. Here, mental representations of the modeled social behavior serve as a guide, steering the observer’s actions as they attempt to replicate the person's behavior. It’s when the driving skills are not just understood but put into practice.

The Impact of Reinforcement and Motivation

Just as cheers and encouragement can propel athletes to push their limits, reinforcement and motivation are key drivers of observational learning.

Consider vicarious reinforcement, which occurs when an observer sees a model rewarded, thereby increasing the likelihood of the observer imitating the model’s positive behaviors, particularly if they anticipate similar rewards.

It’s like an athlete striving for a personal best after witnessing a teammate being celebrated for their achievement.

Conversely, there’s vicarious punishment.

When an observer sees a model being punished, it can deter them from replicating the same behavior to avoid adverse outcomes. It’s comparable to an athlete refraining from a risky maneuver after seeing a peer incur an injury attempting it. Observers weigh the potential benefits against the risks based on the outcomes they see the model experiencing.

This interplay of reward and punishment, of cheers and cautionary tales, illustrates the nuanced process of how behaviors are adopted and internalized through social learning.

The Dynamics of Vicarious Learning

Vicarious learning is an intricate part of the broader social learning framework. It’s where individuals learn by observing others, gaining insights from experiences that are not their own. It’s akin to reading a biography of a seasoned explorer and learning from their adventures and misadventures, despite never having traveled those paths personally.

Literature and storytelling act as conduits for vicarious learning, offering windows into different lives and outcomes. This method allows individuals to assimilate knowledge at their own pace, leading to the retention of this information and its assimilation into long-term memory.

It’s like absorbing the wisdom from a seasoned coach's playbook, gradually understanding the strategies, and integrating them into one’s own game plan.

Bandura's Social Learning Theory in Modern Education

Bandura’s social learning theory resonates within the contemporary educational landscape. Here, instructors are the influential figures, guiding learners by example. It’s like a coach demonstrating techniques for their athletes to emulate.

Collaborative learning strategies involve social learning interaction among students, akin to a sports team where members learn from each other’s strengths and strategies. It’s like teammates sharing skills and tactics during practice sessions.

Moreover, technology has ushered in new arenas for social learning. Online forums for learners represent innovative collaborative environments where social learning is augmented by digital tools.

It’s like a virtual sports clinic where participants from across the globe can share tips and techniques, breaking down geographical barriers--this is just one of the social learning examples.

Social Learning Theory Principles in Action

The principles of social learning theory are the foundational plays that direct the learning process. These principles—observation, attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation—are vital for effective learning via observation and imitation. It’s like mastering a sport:

  1. You must first observe the techniques (observation).
  2. Focus on the techniques (attention).
  3. Remember them (retention).
  4. Be able to execute them (reproduction).
  5. Have the drive to learn and refine your skills (motivation).
social learning theory

The probability of individuals mimicking constructive behaviors, including verbal behavior, increases when they observe models they identify with, such as those who are:

  • nurturing
  • authoritative
  • similar to the observer
  • rewarded for their behaviors

It’s like an athlete being more likely to adopt the training habits of a respected and successful coach, or a fellow athlete who shares their discipline or background.

The Influence of Social Media on Social Learning

Just as a painter may be inspired by watching tutorials and time-lapse videos of art creation, social media has broadened the horizon for social learning.

With the proliferation of eLearning, online courses, and social media platforms, social learning theory has taken on new relevance in the digital era.

Social media affords several advantages for learning:

  • Universal access to a plethora of resources such as educational videos and how-to guides, democratizing learning for people from different backgrounds
  • Enhances learner engagement through interactive discussions and feedback
  • Encourages an array of learning approaches, catering to different styles and preferences

It’s like a global workshop where learners can share, critique, and celebrate each other's work.

Social Learning Beyond Academia

The scope of social learning transcends educational institutions. It is pivotal in the workplace, where teamwork and problem-solving facilitate the development of vital skills and knowledge.

In the realm of personal and behavioral development, social learning is equally influential.

Children absorb behaviors, ethics, and societal norms by observing their parents and other influential figures, emphasizing the importance of positive role models. It’s like a novice musician learning the basics by listening to and emulating a skilled mentor.

Tips to Apply Social Learning in Online Learning Environments

Fostering social learning in virtual environments is akin to directing a play where each actor contributes from behind their own screen. It requires the creation of supportive online communities, nurturing of collaborative spirit, and utilization of technology for engaging educational experiences.

Incentives can be crafted within online learning platforms to motivate learners to interact and establish collaboration as habitual behavior.

For instance, it's recognizing the efforts of actors who excel in their roles or memorize their lines swiftly, encouraging them to immerse themselves more deeply and strive for artistic excellence.

Cultivating a Culture of Shared Learning through Collaborative Activities

Cultivating a culture of shared learning is about creating a supportive environment where individuals can come together to share knowledge and skills. This collaborative atmosphere encourages learners to engage with one another, exchange ideas, and collectively overcome challenges such as misinformation and digital ethics concerns.

To effectively cultivate this culture within organizations, consider implementing various strategies:

  • Establish mentorship programs where experienced individuals guide newcomers
  • Encourage peer-to-peer learning practices that promote knowledge exchange
  • Organize learning circles and collaborative events, creating opportunities for group discussions and collective problem-solving, reminiscent of brainstorming choreography for a group performance.

By integrating these approaches, organizations can create a dynamic and engaging learning community. Here's how you can implement these strategies with a social community platform:

Encouraging peer-to-peer learning practices that promote knowledge exchange

Build mini-communities by grouping your members into small cohorts. With Disco's group/subgroup features, you can group members automatically when they join your community. First, you need to set up your member onboarding at Disco and make sure you created a Disco account. If you haven't done it yet, watch this short tutorial:

After that, navigate to the Admin Area, and select Members -> Groups. Once there, click '+ Group' to create custom groups. If you've started creating a learning program, events, channels, or feeds inside Disco, you'll see that the system generated a group automatically for these items.

Now, feel free to set up your group. You can add those existing members who you want to be in this group. In my example, I wanted to create an 'ambassador' group for those who want to be a community ambassador. Ambassadors can co-host community events and so lead a peer-to-peer learning program for everyone.

And here's what it looks like after adding your custom group!

If you manage a large organization, then you can create subgroups within the group. It's easy, click on the three dots beside the profile photos, then select 'create a sub-group'. After that, you can set it up. Then you're ready to automate this during your onboarding!

I assume you're still in the Admin Area, so click 'Automation' -> '+Automation'. We have an automation template readily available for you! However, for this example, we will create a custom automation. You can use those templates once you mastered these steps!

Automation has triggers and actions. Let's say "IF members join community (trigger), THEN add them in the Ambassador group (action). In the trigger part, you can select 'members join community'.

Since I want to integrate this into my onboarding process, I'll select 'conditional branch' to instruct the system to only add those new members who have expressed a desire to become an ambassador.

I filled in this condition with my onboarding question. And then add in the action that it should be added in the 'ambassador group'. Press save changes to publish!

Congrats! You've made it. Say goodbye to manually adding your members in a particular group, and say hello to a seamless workflow of organizing your peer-to-peer learning programs. Next, we will show you how to create an event. You may use this for the first event to implement your peer-to-peer learning program.

📺 Watch this short tutorial to master the process:

This is one of the favorite features of our users such as AltMBA. They even praised us for this:

"Disco has many features readily available to us that we've had to create from scratch in the past on other platforms. We loved the way that Disco approached member onboarding!" - AltMBA

Organize Learning Circles and Collaborative Events

Assuming you have completed the steps above, let's go and create an event for your general community. Go to Events -> '+Add event'.

Next, set up your event with enthusiasm. Ensure you choose the 'In Community' option. With Disco's versatile event tool, you can craft experiences within your community or tailor them for specific products.

⚠️ Opt for 'in community' to create a vibrant gathering open to all members, fostering a sense of unity and collective growth. On the other hand, if you aim to provide exclusive content for learners enrolled in your courses, then 'in product' is your go-to choice, ensuring a focused and personalized learning environment for those who have registered or invested in your course.

Once you save the draft, the system will ask you to write a brief event description. You can ask Disco AI to write the description by typing "/ai' and selecting Write With AI.

Type in your prompt and add a reference link. Wait for a few seconds to generate the whole text! You can even add AI-generated images by typing '/ai' and choosing 'generate image'.

Once you publish the event, your members and non-members can attend and participate in your event. Enjoy the automatic feedback from event attendees!

You may also share the event on your social media and email with just one click!

Creating Opportunities for Group Discussions and Collective Problem-solving with AI

Another way to implement a social learning environment in your community is to create a space where members can collaborate, discuss, and share insights. Events can be a good idea for synchronous sessions, but when it comes to asynchronous, discussion boards, channels, and forums are nailing this! Here's how you can do this:

Let's say you want to create a #channel for peer feedback. For instance, I created my course at Disco and I want learners to interact with each other apart from completing the modules. So I created a #peerfeedback channel to collect all these discussions.

Navigate to your course and click '+' to add an app.

After that, select 'channel'.

Set up your product channel accordingly. Ensure you write a brief description about it so Disco AI can help you generate the prompts and posts for your discussions. 'Enable' Q&A suggestions if you want an AI assistant helping you in answering your member queries, making your task 10x faster and easier than before!

Once published, Disco AI will suggest prompts to initiate the conversation inside the #channel.

Once you have chosen a prompt, click 'draft message in channel.' You can enhance the post before posting it.

Lastly, Disco AI will continuously suggest replies and comments to ensure the discussion is ongoing. Instead of writing these on your own, Disco AI serves as your virtual assistant to do some of the tasks.

💡Want to learn more about Disco AI? Here's how to set it up.

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The Learning Community Playbook by Disco

Take Advantage of Integrating Social Learning Into Your Community With the #1 AI-Powered Social Learning Platform: DISCO!

Seize the opportunity to enhance your community with the cutting-edge features of Disco. Sign up now and embark on a 14-day free trial to seamlessly implement social learning into your digital ecosystem. Don't miss out on the chance to transform the way you connect, share, and grow together.

Start your social learning journey with Disco today! Got questions? Book a personalized demo for free to talk to our customer representative.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is social learning theory in simple terms?

Social learning theory suggests that we acquire new behaviors by watching and copying others within our social spheres. It's the concept that we are, in a sense, mirrors of each other, reflecting and adopting the actions we observe.

Who pioneered the concept of social learning theory?

The architect behind social learning theory is Albert Bandura, whose research and insights have sculpted our understanding of this learning process.

How is social learning adapted to online environments?

In the digital realm, social learning thrives by curating environments that nurture mutual support and active collaboration, all while harnessing the power of technology to create dynamic and interactive educational experiences.

What's the significance of technology in social learning?

Technology is the backbone of contemporary social learning, offering a toolbox of platforms—ranging from learning management systems and digital forums to real-time webinars and engaging gamification—that enhance and facilitate the social learning journey.

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