Bandura, the Theory of Social Learning and Education

Taken from the blog: Christopher Nesbitt
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Albert Bandura is a psychologist from Canada who is currently a professor at the Stanford University. He is widely described as the greatest living psychologist and one of the most influential of our time. Bandura has won many awards, received six honorary degrees and a 2002 survey ranked him the fourth most cited psychologist of all time. I want to explore some of his research and understand how it has influenced education today.

Bandura was responsible for conducting the famous “Bobo doll” experiment in (1961), a very controversial experiment however it paved the way for his theory of social learning. Bandura conducted the study with the aim to investigate if social behaviours or aggression can be acquired by imitation. Using children from the Stanford University nursery school he tested 36 children of each gender. The experiment consisted of three stages, the first two stages were used to lay the foundations of the experiment with the children being observed in stage three. It is this final stage that provided the experimenters with the results they required. The children were divided into three groups of 24, one group was exposed to aggressive behaviour towards the Bobo doll, another observed non-aggressive behaviour and the final 24 were used as a control group and did not observe any particular behaviours.

For stage one the children entered the experimental room individually, within this room there was some toys, a mallet and a Bobo doll. The person who the child would observe, better known as a model was invited into the room. Depending on the group that the child was assigned the model would either act in an aggressive or non-aggressive manner towards the Bobo doll. If aggressive actions were to take place the model ensured that they were aggressive in an easy to imitate way. At this point stage one would come to an end and an experimenter would enter and take the child to another room. Stage two was used as a way to stimulate aggression; the child was subjected to mild aggression arousal. To cause this arousal the child was taken to a room with lots of toys, however as soon as he/she began to play with the toys they were quickly removed by the experimenter and told that those toys were not for them. For the final stage of the experiment the child was taken to a room containing a Bobo doll, a mallet, a dart gun and some other non-aggressive toys such as a tea set and teddy bears. The child was placed in the room for a total of twenty minutes and their behaviour was observed and rated though a one-way mirror. Experimenters made observations at 5-second intervals, therefore giving 240 responses for each child. The Bobo doll experiment allowed Bandura to draw several conclusions based on the collective data that the results showed. He found that the children who observed aggressive behaviour towards the Bobo doll were more likely to imitate this aggression when they came face to face with the doll. The girls who witness the aggressive conditions also showed more physical aggressive responses if the model was male but more verbal aggressive responses if the model was female.

Bandura (1977) states “behaviour is learned from the environment through the process of observational learning.” This underpins his theory of social learning and the Bobo doll experiment support this theory. In their lives children observe a variety of people that can influence how they grow, develop and behave. The behaviour of these people can define the child and these influences include parents, siblings, friends and teachers. The people that children observe are referred to by Bandura as models and the influences previously mentioned provide the opportunity for children to view the behaviour of both male and female models. When children observe models they encode some of their behaviours, remembering what they have seen and replicating such behaviours. Bandura found that during the Bobo doll experiment (1961) that children are more likely to replicate models of the same gender but this is not always the case. Despite a desire to copy behaviours that they have observed children can be manipulated to repeat or stop the behaviours. This is done through the use of reinforcement or punishment, if the behaviour that a child is replicating is positive then the model may decide to reinforce such behaviours. They may do this by providing praise or a reward, with the hope that they child repeats the particular behaviour more often. On the other hand the model may punish the child in order to discourage them from repeating the behaviour again. A punishment may entail removing the child from an activity that they enjoy or telling them off. Skinner (1968) argued that learning is a result of the reinforcement or punishment of behaviours within a context that is deliberately manipulated. It is at this point we can begin to evaluate the social learning theory in education.

In our classroom teacher can use the social learning theory as a way of understanding the current behaviour of some of the students, especially in the cases of troublesome children. Teachers can use the influences and people that these children observe as a point of research to begin to understand why children act out. Moreover the social learning theory can be used as a method of modelling good behaviour to children. Observing a teacher behaving in a particular way and their responses in different situations can help to encourage children to behave in the same way. The cause of a problem or success may be accounted to a child’s exposure to another person and their behaviours. All teachers are role models and it is their responsibility to ensure that they behave in a way that meets the expectations of a role model. By doing so teachers can help develop and shape children in a way that is beneficial to their learning and development.

Sources, References and Further Reading

Bandura, A. Ross, D., & Ross, S.A (1961). Transmission of aggression through the imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-582

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Skinner, B.F. (1968). The Technology of Teaching. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.


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