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.

REFERENCE

Cherry, K. (2017). What is Social Learning Theory? Verywell. Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/social-learning-theory-2795074.

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What is intelligence?

My work requires a lot of mobility and flexibility, so wherever I go my toddler (and husband) goes as well. Just recently, we attended an out-of-town workshop along with participants from various regional and division offices in the Department of Education. For the whole week, she roamed the vicinity, explored the nooks and crannies of the function room, weaved through the tables and chairs, and made friends with the participants and hotel staff.

Perhaps it was lucky that the participants were also teachers and education program supervisors — they were amused at how sociable and well-behaved the youngest participant was. “Exposure,” I explained as I kept an eye on the ever-mobile toddler. “She’s always with us and she interacts with a lot of people”. One participant quipped that at the age of seven, Wyona would be college-ready because of her ability to socialize and to learn fast. I laughed, but deep in the inside I was terrified at the thought of my daughter being too intelligent for her age. But what constitutes intelligence, anyway? Can we have too much or how can we measure if its more or less?

This week’s module tackles the definition and the different theories of intelligence. What struck me the most is that most of the earlier literature on intelligence tends to focus on mental abilities that are traditionally the markers of achievement in the school setting. There was also much focus on quantifying or measuring intelligence through mental aptitude skills and tests. As other theorists contribute to the discourse, other definitions and perspectives of intelligence emerged: multiple intelligences (i.e. Gardner), social intelligence (i.e. Goleman, Thorndike), environmental adaptibility (i.e. Sternberg).

In making sense of how we define “intelligence”, we come to understand how we measure this in school and how we formulate interventions for students in the classroom (assuming that they have varying levels of intelligence). However, there is one important issue in the use of tests to measure mental ability and aptitude of students: the labeling of “intelligence” in these tests connote that those who obtain below average scores are not intelligent when we know very sure that intelligence goes beyond as what Thorndike said as the “abstract”. Hence, teachers should be able to integrate knowledge about the different theories in intelligence in pedagogy and content so that it caters to different learners. After all, the role is to teach learners how to adapt to a new or changing environment and to make a change in society, and that doesn’t come through high grades or scores alone — they need the guidance to harness and to hone the different aspects of their intelligences so that they can help themselves, help others, and be a productive citizen.

Perhaps Wyona can give a better answer when she turns seven. Until then, I can only watch and wonder.

Touching the Future

Every day is a new learning experience when you’re a parent, particularly if you have a toddler who is raring to explore the world around her. However, this constant learning on how to parent and to be a good parent instantly becomes different when theories on learning are introduced. It is like a chain of seemingly abstract ideas connect and materialize right before your eyes and the living evidence is none other than you and the people around you.

Just this week, I was able to connect the theory of unlearned and learned behavior with my toddler’s behavior, as she exhibits both. While she is in the process of biological maturation, she is refining her coordination (walking) and motor skills (grasping) or unlearned behavior. At the same time, she has learned behavior from us and her environment: she uses non-verbal (pointing, facial expressions) and verbal communication (babbling, words) to let people know what she wants or needs. Not to mention that her keen eye for detail and curiosity help facilitate imitation. Just by observing, she is able to open containers with caps, peel off stickers, flip through pages, turn on the television, tap/swipe a phone, among many things. Just by watching how people interact, she shows the same reactions and emotions towards different stimuli and people. This makes it all the more challenging as me, the parent/learner, and my partner must also be good parent/teachers for her!

Yet moving past the observable behavioral changes caused by learning, what I consider the most important is that learning is a constant change in state, whether through the acquisition of a skill or through a new understanding of the world (Roberts, 2013). I could relate very well to the concept of surface learning and deep learning, as most of my college days were spent through selective learning and rote/memorization! However, what I learned in the classroom made an impact on my decisions and/or my behavior if it could be related to my prior experiences/knowledge; if it piqued my interests as a student; and if it was applicable or useful to me in the future. Yet what struck me the most was how much I learned outside of the four walls of the classroom: the “hidden curriculum” behind societal expectations and decorum. When I came to study in the Philippines, I had to make a big adjustment from what I was used to in Saudi Arabia (I was born and had lived there for fourteen years), from the language to behavior to social mores.

Looking back at my experience as a student and as a parent, I would like to become a teacher (both formal and informal) who is able to effectively guide her learners in achieving their maximum potential. After all, we are not blank slates or tabularasa who sit passively to absorb information, skills or knowledge. Rather, I would like to be the facilitator of learning so that my learners can make informed decisions and act with their own agency. The concepts of informal and non-formal learning appeal greatly to me (owing to my own experience in learning) and I hope to improve skills in facilitation and teaching since I have no formal experience in the classroom yet.

So for the meantime, I will continue to learn through being a parent. After all, the teachers are said to be the second parents of the children. They are given the task of making an impact on the learners and subsequently, the future of society. So as Christa McAuliffe said, “I touch the future. I teach.”