Social Learning Theory and Student Success

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges as an instructor is not simply motivating learners, but continuing to engage, hold the attention, and inspire them to remain active participants throughout the learning experience. More recently, Social Learning Theories, and their practical application, are being explored as a means for improving learner success by offering a more interactive and guided - rather than dictated - learning environment. The instructional shift from dictatorship to instructional guide creates a "Student - Centered" learning environment which places learners back in control of their learning experience.

Social Learning Perspectives

Social learning perspectives consider three primary factors which influence the instructional - learner relationship:

1. Context - the resources we use to develop knowledge.

    Personal Experience
    Interactions - social engagements, feedback, communication

2. Culture & Community - our beliefs, sense of community, communication, linguistic differences that contribute to our unique learning and interaction styles which commonly include: gender, ethnicity, and age. These factors also contribute to common goal attainment and the perceived sense of community learners feel in relation to their classmates.

3. Learner Characteristics - the nature/origin of a learner's knowledge and beliefs. Generally speaking, the act of learning is fluid in the sense that it is ever-changing based on what we have or are learning.

    Prior Knowledge
    Individual Learning Style - auditory, visual, kinesthetic, or a combination. A learners preferred method of learning is as unique as each learner.
    Self - efficacy (confidence) - how confident is the learner when presented with new tasks? Anxious? Excited?
    Motivation - learner motivation can be intrinsic (behaviors directed toward personal interest or gain), extrinsic (behaviors directed toward external rewards), or a combination of both.

The Benefits

Learner confidence, motivation, and overall success are greatly improved when working from a curriculum designed with social learning perspectives in mind. Essentially, learners who are bestowed with the choice, and responsibility, of being an active learner are more engaged in the learning process since it is no longer a passive environment - lectures for example are passive learning experiences whereas class discussions are interactive. Perhaps the simplest, and most basic way, to integrate social learning perspectives into an existing curriculum is by offering activities, and levels of interaction, fostering student learning and success by catering to the engagement and readiness levels of an assorted student population.

Cooperative & Peer Learning

Perhaps one of the most useful Social Learning theories is Cooperative or peer learning. An instructional environment that encourages group work, guided discussions, and activities requiring social interaction between students enriches the learning experience. Using the Constructivism example, interactions between students of varying backgrounds and belief structures will internalize and process content differently. By requiring interactive activities, instructors afford each student the opportunity to share their point of view thereby quite frequently enlightening their classmates to new ideas. Research confirms group study results in better performance.

Final Thoughts

Learners, as active participants in the educational exchange, develop over time, behaviors essential to learner achievement. An understanding of social learning perspectives and a diverse curriculum of activities geared toward active learning is the keystone to promoting: self-regulated learning, content exploration, accountability, improved learner confidence, reflective thinking, motivation, and overall learner success.

Dr Bryan A. West is the owner and manager of Fortress Learning, an Australian Registered Training Organisation who consistently generates greater than 90% student satisfaction ratings with their range of online courses. Learn more by visiting