What Is Social Cognitive Theory of Learning?


Diego Sanchez

What Is Social Cognitive Theory of Learning?

Social cognitive theory, developed by psychologist Albert Bandura, is a learning theory that emphasizes the importance of observation and modeling in the learning process. It suggests that people learn not only through direct experience but also by observing others and imitating their behaviors. This theory takes into account the social and cognitive aspects of learning, highlighting the role of both social influences and individual mental processes.

Key Concepts

There are several key concepts within social cognitive theory that help explain how learning occurs:

  • Vicarious Learning: According to Bandura, individuals can learn from observing others’ actions and the consequences they experience. This process is known as vicarious learning or observational learning. By watching others, individuals can acquire new knowledge, skills, and attitudes without having to engage in the behavior themselves.
  • Self-efficacy: Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in their ability to successfully perform a specific task or behavior. Bandura proposed that self-efficacy plays a crucial role in motivation and behavior change.

    When individuals believe they have high self-efficacy for a particular task, they are more likely to engage in that behavior and persist even when faced with challenges.

  • Reciprocal Determinism: The concept of reciprocal determinism suggests that human behavior is influenced by three factors: the environment, personal factors (e.g., thoughts, beliefs), and behavior itself. These three factors interact with each other in a continuous loop. For example, an individual’s environment can shape their thoughts and beliefs, which then influence their behavior.


Social cognitive theory has been applied to various areas such as education, psychology, and even marketing. Here are a few examples of how this theory is utilized:

Educational Settings

Social cognitive theory has contributed to the development of effective teaching strategies. Teachers can use modeling techniques to demonstrate desired behaviors and guide students in acquiring new skills. By providing positive role models and creating a supportive learning environment, educators can enhance students’ self-efficacy and motivation to learn.

Behavior Change Programs

Social cognitive theory has been influential in behavior change interventions. For example, in health promotion programs, individuals may be exposed to stories or testimonials of others who have successfully adopted healthy behaviors. By showcasing these success stories, individuals can develop greater self-efficacy and be more motivated to make positive changes in their own lives.


Social cognitive theory emphasizes the social nature of learning and the role of observation and modeling in shaping behavior. By considering the interactions between personal factors, behavior, and the environment, this theory offers valuable insights into how individuals acquire new knowledge and skills. Understanding the principles of social cognitive theory can be beneficial for educators, psychologists, and anyone interested in facilitating learning or behavior change.