Part B: Critical Evaluation of a theory
Social cognitive theory (SCT) is a development from
social learning theory which suggests that learning transpires in a social
context (Bandura, 1977). Social learning includes passive engagement, such as
observation and listening, and active engagement which is actually contributing
to discussions (Mankin, 2009). The theory challenges preconceived ideas on how
individuals learn as Bandura introduced his famous ‘Bobo Doll’ experiment and
implied that social comparative and influence practices shape our perceptual processes.
The underlying foundation of the theory is that people learn by observing
others and that the environment, behaviour and cognition are a reciprocal
triadic relationship. An example of this type of learning within a work context
is discussions with colleagues, mentors and specialist experts.
primary advantage of social cognitive learning is knowledge sharing. For
example, learning in a social context creates a platform for collective
knowledge. This is because individuals take perceptual cues from the
environment in determining whether they have achieved mastery such as critical
feedback which is then reflected on and developed. Another benefit of group
learning in organisations is that groups are more likely to be able to tackle
complex problems than individually (Qin et al 1995). Interaction within a
work environment also makes knowledge acquisition more personalised as
individuals are able to obtain information when they need it rather than it
In contrast, a disadvantage of social learning is that the group must have
consensus on the standard of work to perform towards otherwise conflict will
arise. Consequently, an individual needs to be willing to engage in order to
effectively learn in a social context. An example of this is how the discussion
quality will be limited to the engagement, participation and knowledge base of
the workers contributing. Here questions arise such as what is the optimal
group size to effectively learn in a social context? It is argued however, that
the group heterogeneity effect will alter for different tasks therefore, a
limitation is that initial conditions cannot guarantee the effectiveness of
social learning (Dillenbourg, 1999).
learning is recognised in many forms today for example in the classroom or the
workplace. A prime example of this is how organisational best practice provides
techniques for facilitating social learning in group projects, brainstorming
activities and organisational discussions. Social learning encourages social
interaction for example coaching and mentoring in work environments promotes a
deeper understanding because of the cyclical process of observing and reflecting.
Bandura’s theory also illustrates that in a work context it is important for
managers to act as role models because employees observe their behaviour and
act accordingly (Mankin 2009, page 123). However, social cognitive learning is undesirable
for learning facts or indicative knowledge as unequal participation can occur meaning
individual learning can be limited.
Social cognitive theory recognises how learning has a social dimension and that
in some cases situated learning is more effective than individual codified
learning. Overall it is evident that social cognitive learning is prevalent in
the workplace however, more research needs to be carried out in organisations
as much of the evidence is based in educational settings. To develop this
further, Bandura’s ‘Bobo Doll’ experiment could be recreated to assess whether
the theory is consistent with adult learning not just children.