What Are the Major Dimensions of Social Learning Theory?

Social learning theory, developed by Albert Bandura, emphasizes the importance of observational learning and the influence of social factors in shaping individual behavior. According to this theory, people learn through observing others and imitating their actions. However, social learning theory encompasses more than just observation and imitation; it also includes several major dimensions that contribute to the learning process.

1. Observational Learning

Observational learning is a fundamental aspect of social learning theory. It involves watching others’ behaviors and outcomes.

By observing others, individuals can acquire new knowledge and skills without direct experience or reinforcement. Bandura argued that people are more likely to imitate behaviors they have observed if they believe that these behaviors will lead to positive outcomes.

2. Modeling

Modeling, also referred to as vicarious reinforcement, is another essential dimension of social learning theory. It involves identifying with role models or influential individuals who demonstrate certain behaviors and characteristics. When individuals observe these models being rewarded for their actions, they are more likely to imitate those behaviors themselves.

3. Reinforcement

Reinforcement plays a significant role in social learning theory as well. According to Bandura, reinforcement can be both external (such as rewards or punishments) and internal (such as self-satisfaction or self-doubt). When individuals receive positive reinforcement for their behavior or witness others being rewarded for specific actions, they are more likely to engage in those behaviors themselves.

4. Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy, which refers to an individual’s belief in their own abilities to succeed in specific situations, is a crucial dimension of social learning theory. Bandura argued that individuals with high self-efficacy are more likely to set challenging goals, exhibit perseverance, and view failures as learning opportunities. Conversely, individuals with low self-efficacy may be less motivated to engage in certain behaviors or may give up easily when faced with obstacles.

5. Cognitive Processes

Cognitive processes, including attention, memory, and motivation, are also integral to social learning theory. Individuals must pay attention to the behaviors being observed, retain the information in memory, and be motivated to reproduce those behaviors. Bandura suggested that cognitive processes play a critical role in determining whether observational learning leads to behavior change.


Social learning theory encompasses several major dimensions that contribute to how individuals acquire new knowledge and skills through observation and imitation. These dimensions include observational learning, modeling, reinforcement, self-efficacy, and cognitive processes. By understanding these dimensions, we can gain insights into how social factors influence behavior and develop strategies for promoting positive learning outcomes.