Social Learning in Education Guide for 2023

Published On: June 2nd, 2023·By ·

Social learning theory is a concept developed by psychologist Albert Bandura that emphasizes the importance of observation and imitation in the learning process.

According to cognitive theories and to this theory, individuals learn by observing the behavior of others and the consequences of those behaviors. They then use this information to guide their own behavior in similar situations.

Social learning is one of the most informal ways of learning. It can be done in a variety of settings, such as classrooms, workplaces, and communities. 

Social learning can be particularly influential in the classroom because students can learn from their peers, teachers, and other adults without even being aware that the collaborative learning process is happening.

One of the key benefits of social learning in the classroom is that it fosters a sense of community and collaboration among students. By working together, students learn from each other's strengths and weaknesses and develop new skills.

Today, we’ll explore social learning and how teachers can use social learning strategies to help students learn and grow in ways that traditional classroom instruction may not always be able to achieve.

History of Social Learning

Albert Bandura is a renowned psychologist best known for his work on social learning theory

In the 1960s, he proposed that people learn not only from their own experiences but also by observing the behavior of others and the outcomes of their actions. 

Bandura believed that the environment and the people around us play a crucial role in shaping our behavior.

Bandura's social learning theory suggests that individuals learn through observation, imitation, and modeling. He emphasized the importance of cognitive processes that influence learning, such as attention and memory in observational learning.

According to Bandura, individuals not only acquire new behaviors through observation but also evaluate the consequences of these behaviors.

In 1961, Badura conducted The Bobo doll experiment to demonstrate the principles of social learning theory. 

In the experiment, children observed an adult model behaving aggressively towards a Bobo doll, such as hitting and punching it. The children were then left alone in a room with the same doll and were found to imitate the aggressive behavior they had witnessed. 

One of Bandura's key findings was that individuals are more likely to imitate behavior if they see it being rewarded rather than punished. He also found that the closer the observer identifies with the model, the more likely they are to imitate the behavior.

Types of Social Learning

Albert Bandura theorized that there are two types of social learning which are still being used today in formal education, namely:

  • Reinforcement learning
  • Vicarious learning

Let’s look at each type of social learning briefly.

Reinforcement learning

Reinforcement learning refers to the consequences of a behavior that influence the likelihood of that behavior being repeated in the future. 

Reinforcement can be positive or negative and can either increase or decrease the likelihood of a behavior being repeated.

For example, if a child observes a friend receiving praise for sharing a toy with another child, they are more likely to engage in that behavior in the future. The praise serves as a positive reinforcement, and it increases the possibility of the behavior being repeated.

On the other hand, if the child observes the friend being scolded for hitting another child, they are less likely to hit another child in the future. Here, the scolding serves as a negative reinforcement, decreasing the likelihood of the child repeating that behavior.

Vicarious learning

Vicarious learning refers to learning from the experiences of fictional characters or from media portrayals of real-world events. 

For instance, a person may learn about the potential dangers of smoking by observing the negative health consequences experienced by a character in a movie or television show.

In vicarious learning theories, the observer acquires emotional responses associated with the behavior they observe, such as fear or admiration, which influence their future behavior.

Principles of Social Learning Theory

Social learning is social cognitive theory, which has four principles that determine whether new behavior has been learned.

The four principles of social learning theory are:

  • Attention: People must first pay attention to the behavior they are observing in order to learn from it. Attention is influenced by whether the observer finds the behavior useful or interesting.
  • Retention: People must be able to remember the observed behavior in order to imitate it later. Retention is influenced by cognitive abilities and memory.
  • Reproduction: People must have the physical or cognitive capability to reproduce the behavior they observed. They must also believe that they are capable of performing the behavior.
  • Motivation: Individuals must be motivated to perform the behavior. Motivation is influenced by the consequences associated with the behavior such as reinforcement and punishment.

Social Learning Examples in Education

Depending on the needs and objectives, there are many examples of how social learning can be implemented in a classroom. 

Next, we discuss them and demonstrate how you can apply them in your classroom.

Peer Mentoring/Teaching

Peer mentoring or teaching is a strategy that applies social learning theory in the classroom by allowing students to learn from each other through observation, modeling, and reinforcement. 

Peer mentoring can be used to support social and emotional learning by encouraging students to act as mentors or buddies to each other.

One way to implement peer mentoring is by creating opportunities for students to teach each other. 

For example, a teacher can assign students to teach a lesson on a particular topic to their peers. This will promote deeper understanding and help children learn and reinforce concepts learned in class.

Student-created Videos

Student-created videos are another way to apply social learning theory in the classroom. 

This approach involves having students create videos that demonstrate a particular concept, skill, or topic they have learned in class. 

This process can create a sense of belonging and engagement in the learning process. It can also help build a collaborative classroom community.

Using the Reward System

Using the reward system is a strategy that applies social learning theory in the classroom by rewarding desirable behaviors to discourage undesirable behaviors.

The approach can be used to motivate students to engage in learning activities, participate in class discussions, complete assignments, and follow classroom rules.

To implement a reward system, teachers can establish clear expectations for behavior and academic performance, and communicate those expectations to students. 

They can then provide rewards for students who meet those expectations.

Rewards can come in different forms, such as verbal praise, certificates, privileges, or small prizes. The key is to make sure the rewards are meaningful and valued by students.

Role Playing

Role-playing means applying social learning theory in the classroom by allowing students to take on different roles or characters and act out scenarios or situations that are relevant to the topics being studied.

This approach can be great for classes such as history or language arts where memory is crucial.

Through role-playing, students get the opportunity to practice new skills, engage in social interactions, and develop their communication skills in a safe learning environment..


In debates, students are divided into teams and given a topic or issue to discuss, argue, and defend. 

This process requires students to research, analyze, and organize information. It also requires them to develop their communication and interpersonal skills.

The students must remember the key points and examples, and be able to apply them in the social context of the debate.

Motivation for students to engage in debates can be reinforced by the opportunity to practice and refine their skills, receive feedback, and contribute to the own learning experiences of their peers.


Gamification means using game elements to engage and motivate students in the learning process. 

The goal of gamification is to make learning more interactive, engaging, and fun.

Gamification can be implemented through integrating game elements such as points, badges, leaderboards, and challenges into educational activities.

Through gamification, students get the opportunity to engage in problem-solving and critical thinking in a fun and interactive way.

Best Social Learning Tools in Classrooms

There are many digital resources that can help teachers incorporate social learning into their classrooms. These tools can help support student learning and improve their behaviors.

The following is a list of the tools and how they can be used in a classroom.

  • Moodle: Moodle is an open-source learning management system (LMS) that provides educators with a platform to create and deliver online courses, manage learning activities, and track student progress. Moodle can be used to support social learning in a classroom with its features such as forums, chats, wikis, and collaborative activities.
  • Khan Academy: This tool provides a vast library of educational videos and interactive exercises across a range of subjects. Teachers use the videos or exercises to enhance independent student learning. 
  • TED-Ed: This tool offers a platform for creating and sharing animated educational videos. Teachers can use it to create engaging video lessons. Students can also use it to create their own animated videos to share with their peers.
  • TeacherTube: This tool is similar to YouTube, but with a focus on educational content. Teachers can use TeacherTube to find and share videos that align with their subjects. Students can also use TeacherTube to find videos that explain concepts they are struggling with.
  • Padlet: This tool is a virtual bulletin board that allows users to share and collaborate on ideas. Teachers can use Padlet to create interactive discussions and activities for their students. 
  • Quizizz: This tool allows teachers to create interactive quizzes and games for their students. Educators can use Quizizz to assess student understanding and provide feedback in real-time. 
  • Edpuzzle: This tool allows educators to create interactive video lessons by embedding questions and activities into videos. Both teachers and their students can use Edpuzzle to create engaging video lessons that align with their course materials. to practice their skills.
  • Google Sky: This tool is a virtual planetarium that allows users to explore the stars and galaxies. Teachers can use Google Sky to enhance their science lessons and help students visualize astronomical concepts.

With so many digital resources to choose from, teachers should filter their options depending on the age of students and the subjects they teach.

Social Learning Benefits

Implementing social learning theory in a classroom can have many benefits for students. For example:

  • Provides learners with significant control over their schooling: Social learning theory emphasizes that students learn by observing, modeling, and practicing new skills and behaviors. By giving learners control over what they learn, teachers personalize the learning experience to meet individual learning needs and promote self-directed learning.
  • Improves communication: Social learning theory demonstrates the importance of communication in learning. It provides opportunities for learners to develop and practice effective communication skills through group activities, feedback, and collaboration.
  • Increases engagement: Social learning promotes social interaction and collaboration in learning. By fostering a sense of community in the classroom, students can feel more connected to their peers and teachers. This helps increase their engagement in learning. 
  • Increases productivity: By working together and sharing knowledge, learners benefit from each other's strengths and insights. This leads to increased productivity. 
  • Can help students develop their own organizational skills: Social learning theory provides opportunities for students to practice planning, prioritizing, and time management. Students are encouraged to take active roles in their own learning, which requires them to plan and organize their own work and resources. 
  • Helps students develop invaluable soft skills that can be used in the workplace: Through working collaboratively and engaging in group discussions and activities, students develop soft skills that are valuable in the workplace, such as teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving.        

Students raising hands while teacher asking them questions in classroom

Measuring the Impact of Social Learning

Measuring the value and impact of your social learning is crucial when justifying incorporating it into your teaching strategy.

While all efforts can always be optimized and improved, it is essential to first measure the impact to determine the effectiveness of social learning in achieving desired learning outcomes. 

Measuring the impact can help educators identify areas that need improvement, make data-driven decisions, and demonstrate the value of social learning to stakeholders.

Measure engagement

Engagement refers to the degree of interest, attention, and involvement that learners have in the learning process. 

Measuring engagement can help educators understand how well learners are participating and interacting with the learning materials and activities.

Examples of measures of engagement include:

  • Tracking attendance 
  • Analyzing participation in group discussions
  • Conducting surveys to assess learners' interest in the learning experience.

Measure quality

Quality is the degree to which the learning experience meets the intended objectives. 

Measuring quality can help teachers determine whether the social learning approach is an effective tool in achieving the desired goals.

Quality can be measured by:

  • Analyzing learners' performance on assessments
  • Evaluating the quality of students' contributions to group projects
  • Conducting peer reviews to assess the quality of student work

Measure change

Change refers to the extent to which learners demonstrate new skills, knowledge, or behaviors as a result of the social learning experience. 

Measuring change can help determine the effectiveness of social learning in promoting learning and development. 

Change can be measured in two ways:

  • Evaluating changes in learners' behaviors through self-reflection or peer feedback
  • Assessing the impact of the learning experience on learners' performance in real-world situations.

Limitations of a Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory, like any other approach, has its limitations that educators should be aware of. For example:

  • Inner conflicts: People may experience inner conflicts when they try to adopt new behaviors that conflict with their existing values or beliefs. This conflict can make it challenging to implement social learning theory effectively.
  • Less authenticity: When people are learning from others, there is a risk that they may simply mimic the behavior of others rather than being their authentic selves. This can lead to a lack of creativity and uniqueness.
  • Loss of innovation: When individuals rely too much on social learning, they may miss out on opportunities to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things.
  • Unexpected obstacles: Social learning theory assumes that individuals will learn from others who have already mastered a particular skill or behavior. However, unexpected obstacles may arise that prevent the transfer of knowledge from one person to another.
  • Consequences for self-esteem: Learners may feel good about learning from others and improving their skills, but they may also feel inadequate or inferior to those they are learning from.
  • Self-doubt: Students may wonder whether they are doing things correctly or whether they’ll be able to master the skill or behavior they are trying to learn.
  • Measuring requires modern solutions: Measuring the effectiveness of social learning theory can be challenging because it requires modern solutions such as data analysis, which may not be available to all educators.
  • Negative assumptions: It’s possible for individuals to learn negative behaviors and beliefs through social learning, which can have detrimental effects on their lives.

Looking to Apply Social Learning in Your Classroom?

Social learning has numerous benefits for both students and teachers. It enhances collaboration and communication skills, leads to more learning occurs better retention of learned topics, and increases engagement and productivity in the learning process.

To successfully implement social learning in the classroom, educators should ensure clear social learning tools, objectives and expectations are communicated to students from the onset.

They should also facilitate regular feedback and assessment to provide opportunities for students to reflect on their learning and identify areas for improvement.

If you are interested in learning more about how to effectively implement social learning in your classroom, SimpleK12 is a great professional development platform for teachers.

SimpleK12 offers a range of resources that can help you enhance your teaching skills and support your students' success. 

With SimpleK12, you can access high-quality professional development that’s tailored to your needs and schedule.

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We offer flexible classes that address the needs of teachers and schools to support today’s classrooms and increase student success

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