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What is Social Learning Theory?

There are so many theories out there to demonstrate the extensive list of ways in which humans learn, just one of which is the social learning theory. As the title hints, this method of gaining knowledge is closely interlinked with our own observations of other people and how we communicate with and learn from them.

The social learning theory was first introduced in the 1950s by leading American psychologist, Julian Rotter. Despite Rotter's influences in his famous works relating to the power of social and clinical psychology, it was Albert Bandura who developed the theory further in the 1970s, establishing it as a whole new outlook on society's impact on our behaviors and learning.

The main concept at the helm of the theory is that humans learn from other people's behavior. If the outcomes of others' actions are positive, onlookers are more likely to try and replicate these in their own lives; if they have negative consequences, they will be deterred from acting in a similar manner - or so this is usually the case.

One deduction made from the theory closely links with the idea of acting upon other people's trials and tribulations, but states that we can learn from others without copying the way they behave. This opposes the typical behaviorist approach, and means that learning doesn't have a knock-on effect on behavior in some circumstances; it is up to us how we interpret and apply what we have come to know.

Bandura went on to state the most important component of his social learning theory was not ability, but attention. According to the man himself, it does not matter how intelligent or well-rehearsed you are, but rather depends on your capacity to listen, watch and learn from models - and not necessarily always good ones, either.

Continuing with the theme of negative models in society, aggression and violence are two example behaviors with a 'not-so-good' impact on individuals and the broader community. Especially with young people, it has become extremely easy to observe anti-social behavior and think that this is an acceptable way to behave. People with good moral values who have been raised in secure environments are less vulnerable to this, but the actuality of the situation is that it can affect anyone.

On the more positive side of things, it's equally truthful that people cam develop useful, positive mannerisms from the social learning theory. It can be as easy as witnessing a good deed, or something more complex like seeing someone achieve success after prolonged efforts and dedication to a particular cause. However deep, these are the factors that encourage society to behave well to access the rewards they desire.

Since its establishment, Bandura's theory has faced a mixed reception. Some strongly support his ideas as a way of development and learning, although others oppose the foundations the vision is built upon. Anti-social learning theory groups normally prefer the more concrete behaviorist approach, and find it difficult to associate observation as a way of increasing knowledge and understanding. Perhaps a more diplomatic analysis of SLTs effectiveness is that some benefit from the theory due to their individual personality and preferred learning styles, whilst others cannot extract the same rewards for similar reasons.

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