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6.3 SOCIAL COGNITIVE APPROACHES TO LEARNING

Students’ thoughts affect their behavior and learning. We will explore several variations on this theme, beginning with social cognitive theory. This theory evolved out of behavioral theories but has become increasingly more cognitive.

Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory:

Social cognitive theory states that social and cognitive factors, as well as behavior, play important roles in learning. Cognitive factors might involve the student’s expectations for Success; social factors might include students’ observing their parents’ achievement behavior.

Albert Bandura is one of the main architects of social cognitive theory. He says that when students learn, they can cognitively represent or transform their experiences. Recall that in operant conditioning, connections occur only between environmental experiences and behavior.

Bandura developed a reciprocal determinism model that consists of three main factors: behavior, person/cognitive, and environment. These factors can interact to influence learning: Environmental factors influence behavior, behavior affects the environment, person (cognitive) factors influence behavior, and so on.

Consider how Bandura’s model might work in the case of the achievement behavior of a high school student we will call Sondra:

  • Cognition influences behavior: Sondra develops cognitive strategies to think more deeply and logically about how to solve problems. The cognitive strategies improve her achievement behavior.
  • Behavior influences cognition: Sondra’s studying (behavior) has led her to achieve good grades, which in turn produce positive expectancies about her abilities and give her self-confidence (cognition).
  • Environment influences behavior: The school Sondra attends recently developed a pilot study-skills program to help students learn how to take notes, manage their time, and take tests more effectively. The study-skills program improves Sondra’s behavior. achievement
  • Behavior influences environment: The study-skills program is successful in improving the achievement behavior of many students in Sondra’s class. The students’ improved achievement behavior stimulates the school to expand the program so that all students in the high school participate in it.
  • Cognition influences environment: The expectations and planning of the school’s principal and teachers made the study-skills program possible in the first place.
  • Environment influences cognition: The school establishes a resource center where students and parents can go to check out books and materials on improving study skills. The resource center also makes study-skills tutoring services available to students. Sondra and her parents take advantage of the center’s resources and tutoring. These resources and services improve Sondra’s thinking skills.

In Bandura’s learning model, person (cognitive) factors play important roles. The person (cognitive) factor that Bandura has emphasized the most in recent years is self- efficacy, the belief that one can master a situation and produce positive outcomes. Bandura says that self-efficacy has a powerful influence over behavior. For example, a student who has low self-efficacy might not even try to study for a test because he doesn’t believe it will do him any good.

Observational Learning

Observational learning, also called imitation or modeling, is learning that occurs when a person observes and imitates someone else’s behavior. The capacity to learn behavior patterns by observation eliminates tedious trial-and- error learning. In many instances, observational learning takes less time than operant conditioning.

Bandur’s Contemporary Model of observational Learning”

Since his early experiments, Bandura (1986) has focused on the specific processes that are involved in observational learning. These include attention, retention, production, and motivation.

  • Attention: Before students can imitate a model’s actions, they must attend to what the model is doing or saying. A student who is distracted by two other students who are talking might not hear what a teacher is saying. Attention to the model is influenced by a host of characteristics. For example, warm, powerful, atypical people command more attention than do cold, weak, typical people. Students are more likely to be attentive to high-status models than to low-status models. In most cases, teachers are high-status models for students.
  • Retention: To reproduce a model’s actions, students must code the information and keep it in memory so that it can be retrieved. A simple verbal description or a vivid image of what the model did assists students’ retention. For example, the teacher might say, “I’m showing the correct way to do this. You have to do this step first, this step second, and this step third,” as she models how to solve a math problem. A video with a colorful character demonstrating the importance of considering other students’ feelings might be remembered better than if the teacher just tells the students to do this. Such colorful characters are at the heart of the popularity of Sesame Street with children. Students’ retention will be improved when teachers give vivid, logical, and clear demonstrations.
  • Production: Children might attend to a model and code in memory what they have seen but, because of limitations in their motor ability, not be able to reproduce the model’s behavior. A thirteen- year-old might watch basketball player and golfer execute their athletic skills to perfection, or observe a famous pianist or artist perform their skills, but not be able to reproduce their motor actions. Teaching, coaching, and practice can help children improve their performances.
  • Motivation: Often children attend to what a model says or does, retain the information in memory, and possess the motor skills to perform the action but are not motivated to perform the modeled behavior. This was demonstrated in Bandura’s classic Bobo doll study when children who saw the model being punished did not reproduce the punished model’s aggressive actions. However, when they subsequently were given a reinforcement or incentive (stickers or fruit juice), they did imitate the model’s behavior.

Bandura believes that reinforcement is not always necessary for observational learning to take place. But if the child does not reproduce the desired behaviors, three types of reinforcement can help do the trick: (1) reward the model, (2) reward the child, or (3) instruct the child to make self. reinforcing statements such as “Good, I did it!” or “Okay, I’ve done a good job of getting most of this right; now if I keep trying I will get the rest.” We will have much more to say about such self-management strategies shortly.

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