How Does Social Learning Work For Children?

Social learning is a popular education theory, formulated by Albert Bandura. We all learn in different ways and different methods of study can be effective for different people. Social learning, or learning by observing, can be very effective. But how does it work? 


Observational Learning

The basis of the theory says that people can learn by observing others perform a behavior. Children learn by watching those around them and then imitating them, which is a good example of social learning theory.

Social learning can happen with an actual person performing the behaviour, with a verbal instruction model where someone explains details and descriptions of a behaviour or where a real or fictional character demonstrates a behaviour via books, television or other media. 

According to Bandura, a reward in the form of a sense of achievement, confidence or satisfaction is a large part of social learning and how effective it can be. 

How It Works

In order for social learning to work, there are several requirements and steps. First, the learner must be paying attention. Any distractions must be eliminated, and it’s vital that whatever behaviour is being demonstrated is kept as interesting as possible, so the learner pays attention and stays focussed. This helps the learner to retain what they have learned, without having to watch a demonstration several times. 

If the lesson was successful, with the learning paying attention and retaining the relevant information, they should be able to demonstrate the behaviour themselves. Repeating the behaviour is an important step in social learning solutions. Ideally, the learner should feel motivated to replicate the behaviour. Demonstrating the behaviour correctly should be reinforced with reward, whereas incorrect action can be disciplined.

What Are The Benefits For Children?

Social learning can be a great way to help children learn and develop social and emotional skills. It can be a great way to prepare children for different situations. For example, if you’re taking a child to see a firework’s display for the first time, you can explain to them in advance what will happen; prepare them for loud noises and large crowds and discuss together what you can do to make the experience enjoyable and comfortable, like taking ear plugs. You can use social learning to teach children to get ready for school, to behave correctly at the playground or prepare them for a vacation. 

Children benefit from consistent social examples, with clear explanations, examples to copy and opportunities to practice throughout the day. With consistent learning at school and at home, children can learn social competence easily. 

With social learning, you can teach your children how to work with a plan, but still respond flexibly. Give them the tools to cope with challenging situations like a busy grocery store, and to work with others by letting other family members take control of planning a day out. Learning how to compromise is very useful for even young children, as this will help them in play with other children.


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