Social Learning in Reality and in Distance Education

Social Learning Theory in Reality

Life never ceases to remind me that as a parent, I have obligation to be a good role model to my daughter. Just the other day, my husband pointed out that Wyona is not as friendly as often to other people as before, and he attributed this to my natural tendency to be shy around people. “Learn to smile and say ‘Hi’,” he joked. “Kaya napagkakamalan kang mataray eh (That’s why people mistake you for being snobbish).” I shrug off his suggestion and laugh, but deep inside I am reflecting. Why would I expect Wyona to be friendly if I don’t show her how to be friendly? No matter, at least her father’s friendly.

Kidding aside,  modeling behavior and observing such behavior are important aspects of the learning of a toddler. Everything she sees, she imitates from social interactions (clapping, smiling, laughing, saying goodbye, kissing) to movements that require motor skills (opening the cabinet, putting things inside and outside the box, opening the zipper of a bag, putting a phone against the ear). The ones she repeats are mostly the ones she is exposed to everyday, which she picks up from my husband and I’s habits and daily routine. She also learns new movements from the daily commercials she watches on TV. Yet she also has the agency to choose not to act, depending on her current environment and mood.

Count on Albert Bandura to put a name to what a toddler (and I) was going through. Combining cognitivist and behaviorist theories, Bandura posited that not all types of learning come from direct reinforcement or experience, but also from observation of others in person and in media (Cherry, 2017). And to me, Wyona embodies all the components in social learning theory: observation, imitation, and modeling.

Distance Learning and Social Learning Theory

Yet how does learning work if technology is factored in? Bandura’s theory on social learning was significantly used in explaining behavior among viewers (i.e. aggression) yet it did not consider yet that the forms of interaction would change through media — from face-to-face to online. So how would social learning occur if there is no one to observe?

The best thing about online learning is that it is asynchronous and independent, yet everyone is on the same page. Therefore, one particular behavior that online learners should have and is required in this type of learning environment is time management. This is to ensure that there is enough time to study the resources, participate in the discussions, and write.

The first step is to learn through a verbal instructional model, which involves descriptions and explanations of a behavior. How can you manage your time well, given the available modules and resources? How do you organize and manage knowledge? Second, internal mental states are important. Extrinsic reinforcement through interaction through the forums can help boost self-efficacy as other learners affirm or recognize opinions and thoughts. Most importantly, intrinsic reinforcement like the satisfaction of finishing a module within time and see other learners complete their own tasks contributes to better time management.

As of now, with the completion of social theories of learning, I have to go back to the reality that my toddler has managed to open the drawer in the room, empty its contents, and climb into it. Where she learned that she can do that, Bandura cannot fully explain since no one in the family climbs into a drawer to play…but I am happy to know she’s making connections among what she knows (the drawer can be opened in the way the adults open it and it is big to accommodate her), her potential behavior (she can climb into the space and can explore), and the responses from her environment (being told that she could be hurt in the process or being observed for consequences). Ah, learning is never this interesting in the classroom.


Cherry, K. (2017). What is Social Learning Theory? Verywell. Retrieved from