Business Category Business: career motivation and tips to move ahead

Social Vs. Behavioral Learning Theories

Social learning theory asserts that people learn from others through social interaction, imitation and modelling. Social learning theory asserts that learning demands a social context. Behavioural learning theory, in contrast, argues that student learning occurs when a stimulus promotes a behavioural change in the pupil.


Albert Bandura is considered the leading theoretician of social learning theory, and B.F. Skinner is noted as the father of the behaviourist school. The behaviourist learning theory places emphasis on rewards and punishment and how these parameters change behaviour over time. In addition, the behaviourist school of thought focuses on the roles of authority figures such as teachers and principals in setting the stage for successful learning.

Social learning theory, however, differs from behavioural theory by including intrinsic motivation; that is, that each individual wants to succeed. Social learning theory, however, draws comparison to the behaviourist school by pairing behavioural parameters, or extrinsic motivation, like the admission of grades and praise, to influence innate motivation within the student.


Teachers who apply the social learning theory within the classroom allow students to make choices (intrinsic motivation) but also include rules (extrinsic motivation) to guide them in making the right choice. For example, students are given several optional assignments, such as a book report, collage or poem, so they can choose an assignment compatible with their learning style. External motivation, like grades, remains immutable.

Behaviourist school of learning, on the other hand, only includes extrinsic motivation and ignores student choice. For example, teachers apply behavioural approaches when they teach math drills. Teachers break down a math problem into smaller steps, and the student moves onto the next step until he has mastered the particular skill.


The social theory of learning suits teachers whose educational philosophy promotes student-centred learning and self-assessment, and it makes use of group-oriented classwork. This theory, when applied, enables different types of assessments such as writing, presentations and creative work. The assessments themselves, for example rubrics, grade more than one set of criteria.

Social-centred learning, however, would not work best for a teacher who promotes drilling. Her strategy instead would implement behavioural methods of presenting math problems. For example, a teacher would break down a math problem into several steps and not transition to the next step until student mastery is completed.

Classroom examples

Social learning assignments could include group discussions, group debates, presentations, group work or alternate book reports. The teacher, however, would set guidelines for such activities.

Teachers using behaviourist models would implement drills, lectures, tutorials or demonstrations and other teacher-centred activities.


A behavioural approach could foster life skills students may need to demonstrate in the future. Students, for example, need to apply basic computational skills in a future job or in higher education. These basic skills, according to a behaviourist philosophy, translate into learnt or automatic behaviours.

Applying those skills, however, in a social situation such as a job demands experience, creativity and application of those same skills. This is where social learning theory differs from behavioural. Simply memorising bits of information does not net any value unless they are applied in a real setting.

About the Author

Lionel Braud has written professionally since 2008. His publications for Writers Research Group include Work.com and other websites. He is also published in a poetry anthology called "Goldfish Press." Braud holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Kennesaw State and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from University of Tennessee of Chattanooga.

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