What is Social Cognitive Theory?

Dissatisfied with Behaviorism’s disregard for internal processes, theorists in the 1950s and 1960s developed a new theory of behavior. Albert Bandura was one of the founding minds behind a theory of observational learning, Social Cognitive Theory (SCT).

The framework of SCT is triadic reciprocity, the reciprocal interaction between:

  • behaviors
  • environment
  • cognition (personal factors

Most of the principles in Behaviorism seek to explain the one-way interaction from environment to behavior. SCT acknowledges that the interaction goes both ways and individuals influence their behavior as it influences them. The two way interactions of the three factors represent the processes by which humans learn. The relative strength of these interactions is manifested as self-efficacy. The expression of self-efficacy is one’s belief about their own capabilities to transfer skill knowledge to behavior performance. The nature of the specific task or behavior, the environment, experience, and current readiness all influence self-efficacy.

Some quick notes about self-efficacy:

  • promotes a sense of agency
  • not the same as knowing what to do
  • not the same as outcome expectations (though they are highly correlated)
  • not the same as self-concept (which is changeable through Behaviorist principles)

SCT differentiates enactive and vicarious learning. Enactive learning is learning by doing. Behaviorism focused on enactive learning. Vicarious learning is learning by watching, also called modeling. Most learning involves both, especially learning complex skills.


References

Schunk, D. (2012). Learning theories : an educational perspective. Boston: Pearson.



 

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