Albert Bandura's Theory

The Basics
Albert Bandura is a contemporary learning theorist who went beyond the strict behavioral focus to document how people learn vicariously from observation of others. Bandura noted that our behavior is changed when we see a person take a specific action and be rewarded for that action. In the future we are more likely to take that same action. This is vicarious learning in which we learn through imitation rather than through direct reinforcement. Bandura’s theory is referred to social-cognitive learning theory.

Bandura notes the social influences on learning and distinguishes between learning and performance, a distinction behaviorists would not make. Learning is the acquisition of some symbolic representation that serves to guide future behavior. The future behavior may or may not actually occur. Bandura believes that in naturalistic settings we learn new behaviors through observation of models and the results of their own actions. Cognitive processes also play an important role in our learning, a specially our sense of self-efficacy. According to Bandura our self-efficacy, our beliefs about our ability to perform a specific task, play a major role both in the effort that we put forward and resulting learning.

Bandura has had an influence on several fields not just learning theory. His early work on vicarious learning has had an influence on personality theory and therapy. His work on learning through imitation has served to guide considerable research investigating the impacts of television and movies on viewers. His work on self-efficacy and self-regulation have had impacts on education. His work has helped to extend the more restricted behavioral views of learning into cognitive and social views of learning that note the influence of our thoughts and our interactions with others.

Podcast Review 

You can hear Dr. Hannum reviewing Bandura's theory by clicking on the icon above. This was recorded during a graduate seminar on learning theories. You can also Download podcast.

View of Learning 
Here is a comprehensive set of objectives for Bandura along with points based on these objectives:

1. Describe how Bandura differs from behavioral theory.
Bandura's work extends beyond traditional behavioral theory in that he believes that learning and behavioral change can happen without directly reinforcement of a person. Bandura also posits certain internal factors as influencing behavior, something that a strict behaviorist would never do. Part of Bandura's theory is based on modeling in which a person learns simply through observation of another person rather than through directly responding and being reinforced for that response.

2. Identify Bandura's objections to behaviorism.
Bandura does not believe behaviorism goes far enough in accounting for learning. Specifically, Bandura believes that we learned a lot of our behavior through imitating the behaviors of others that we observe, not through direct action and reinforcement. Bandura believes that certain internal states such as our degree of motivation and our self-efficacy influence our behavior, something that behaviorists do not account for. Simply put, behaviorism does not go far enough in explaining our behavior and takes a limited view that completely discounts any role of the individual in governing or regulating his or her own behavior.

3. Describe reciprocal determinism.
Reciprocal determinism is Bandura's term for describing the relationships among the person, his environment and his behavior. In his view a person's behavior is to some extent a function of his environment as well as a function of him as a person. Likewise the person's environment is shaped and determined at least in part by his behavior and certain believes he holds about the environment. This is to say that our behavior, our environments, as well as the beliefs and ideas we hold our determined by and shape each other. This is a reciprocal determinism, not a one-way path.

4. Describe vicarious, or observational, learning.
For Bandura we learn not only through direct action on our environment and the reinforcements that result but also from vicarious or observational learning. That is, we can learn a new behavior simply through observing someone else performing that behavior not only through having to respond and be reinforced for that particular behavior ourself. This vicarious or observation learning stands in direct conflict with the beliefs of behaviorism. In vicarious learning we see someone else perform a behavior and noticed that he or she is rewarded for doing so. That active observation of another person performing a behavior and being rewarded for it increases the probability that we will engage in that behavior. In a sense, we have learned that new behavior without actively participating but rather simply through observing the behavior and its consequence on another person.

5. Describe how the process of watching a model can influence our behavior.
There's several steps in the process of observational learning that must be in place for it to influence the observer and change his behavior. The person being observed, the model, must be a person with whom the observer can readily identify. This can happen if the model is a high-status person such as a celebrity, sports star, or someone held in high regard. That's why you often see these people in advertisements on television endorsing the product because their endorsement influences us. Seeing an outstanding athlete like Michael Jordan in his prime wearing a particular shoe or drinking a particular sports drink has a great influence on us. Observing what he does and knowing the success that has followed him increases the probability that we will make the decision to wear the same shoes and drink the same drinks. People who have a high status and are held in high regard function well as models influencing the behavior of others who copy them. Another type of person also works well as a model. This type of person is represented by the regular guy who lives next door and is just like us. The guy next door does not have the skill, speed, or basketball abilities of Michael Jordan but if we see him wear a particular type of shoe and play well that makes us more likely to buy that shoe. If a person who does not have movie star good looks or figures like those you would see in a magazine but he or she wears a certain type of deodorant or hair spray and everyone seems to fall for them, then we are likely to buy some of that product. Thus, the first step is having a credible model. The second step is that the model makes a specific choice or engages in a specific behavior. The third step is that the model is observed receiving reinforcements for this choice. When the observation process happens like this it is likely to influence our behavior.

6. Describe the four component processes involved in observation learning.
The four component processes involved in observational learning are as follows. 1) attentional processes in which you determine how well a student will pay attention to the model, 2) retentional processes in which you determine how well the student will remember the behavior of the model, 3) production processes in which you determine how well the student can reproduce the behavior of the model, and 4) motivational processes in which you determine how motivated the student is to imitate the model.

7. Describe the ideal characteristics of a model.
As described previously, the ideal characteristics of the model is that it is someone who the student holds in esteem, or it is someone with whom the student readily identifies as being like him or her. Thus, an appropriate model could be someone who is widely known and admired like a movie star, a rock musician, a popular businessperson or politician, or a famous sports celebrity. Another type of appropriate model is someone who represents the person next door who is very similar to the student.

8. Identify what must be present in order for vicarious learning to occur.
Several elements must be in place for vicarious learning to work. There has to be a model who is appropriate for the students. The model has to demonstrate the behavior you wish the students to learn, and the students have to clearly observe this behavior happening. Students also have to observe the model being reinforced immediately after and as a result of engaging in this behavior. Finally, the reinforcement that the model with cities has to be something that the student see as desirable and would like to receive themselves.

9. Distinguish between learning and behavior.
To Bandura there is a distinction between learning and behavior in which learning is an internal event that is not directly observable and behavior an external event and thus directly observable. Learning can result in behavior change, but it doesn't always have to. That is, we can learn how to do something but choose not to do it.

10. Describe the concept of self-efficacy.
According to Bandura self-efficacy is our belief in our ability to successfully perform a specific task. This is different than some general sense of overall self-worth or self-esteem in that our self-efficacy is the belief we hold about our capacity to perform very specific action, not some overall global ability.

11. Describe how self-efficacy is developed and how it impacts learning.
Our concept of self-efficacy is developed over time through the interactions we have with our environment and how successful we have been. It is also developed through observation of others and the success they have with their environment. If a person sees herself as similar to another student and observes the other student beings successful with a specific task then that student may develop an increased self-efficacy about her ability to perform that task.

12. Describe self-regulation and the three steps in this process.
Self-regulation is a process by which an individual sets goals for him or herself, observes and monitors their performance in obtaining these goals, and then judges the adequacy of their performance and makes modifications.

Bandura is widely known and respected in the field of psychology but perhaps less well known among educators. This has been changing in recent years as educators recognize the importance of peer-learning, the influence of models, the role observation can play in learning and other ideas that follow directly from Bandura. Bandura's concept of self-efficacy has been very influential in education. His emphasis on teaching self-regulation to students has also captured considerable attention among educators. His influence in education is wide and growing.