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Albert Bandura

    Albert Bandura (1925-2021)

    Self-belief does not necessarily ensure success, but self-disbelief assuredly spawns failure

    Bandura’s quote clearly shows that every individual should believe in oneself to avoid failure and get closer to success. Believing in both personal control and social influences he created the theory of social learning and the theoretical concept of self-efficiency (when a person believes in his/her ability to perform in a manner that’s vital for the fulfillment of a specific goal).   

    Albert Bandura was a Canadian-American psychologist well-known for his enormous contribution to the field of education and psychology. His ideas and theories supported the belief that we learn through observing others’ behavior. Badura explained his ideas on social learning in his book: “Social Learning Theory”. He was convinced that we learn observationally through modeling play (we observe others to get a sense of their behavior performance) and later on we use and apply that information in our actions.

    The social learning theory can be efficiently applied both in education and educational training by observing examples of productive behavior. However, according to Bandura, the observers must be actively involved in social learning and be motivated to pay attention, remember, and imitate so that social learning practices can be beneficial. Due to his revolutionary research on the importance of learning by observing others, Albert Bandura is considered one of the most significant social psychologists of the 20th century.     


    Albert Bandura was born on December 4, 1925, in Mundare, a town in central Alberta, Canada, and died on July 26, 2021, in Stanford, California. After his high school graduation in 1946, Bandura continued his education at the University of British Columbia where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1949. As an exceptional psychology student, he received the Bolocan Award in psychology, annually awarded to the best students. In 1951 he got his master’s degree in psychology, and only a year later his doctorate in clinical psychology.

    In 1953 Bandura started to work as an intern at Stanford University, but shortly after he became a professor. He received the complimentary title David Starr Jordan Professor of Social Science in Psychology and was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1974. In 1976 he was appointed to the position of chairman in the department of psychology at Stanford University where he became professor emeritus (a successful professor in retirement) in 2010. Six years later he received the National Medal of Science, one of the most prestigious scientific awards for his exceptional contribution to clinical, cognitive, social, and developmental psychology. He had a long and successful career recognized through many awards and honorary degrees.


    Albert Bandura’s journey to the official publication of his “Social Learning Theory” began in the 1960s, when he devised and performed the famous Bobo doll (an inflatable, egg-shaped balloon with a bottom weight that makes it bob back up when you knock it down) experiment. He designed a group of tests to study children’s behavior after they watched a film about aggressive adult behavior toward a doll-like toy. The crucial element of the experiment was taking notes on children’s behavior right after watching the film, and after the aggressive adult is rewarded, disciplined, or faces no consequence for physically hurting the Bobo doll. Bandura wanted to find out how children can be affected by learning to adopt or reproduce the behavior of others. He applied the results from his experiment to the social development of students. During his research he tried many different variations of the study, to realize that there were particular steps involved in the modeling process:


    Children that were paying attention were learning by observing the behavior of others, while the ones that were sleepy, groggy, sick, or nervous were learning less.  Therefore, Badura believed that we need to pay attention if we want to learn something new. Through his experiment, he also understood the huge effect of color, drama, the model’s characteristics, and looks on our attention;


    The second step in the modeling process is children’s ability to retain and remember the thing they paid attention to.  Badura thought that we save the model’s behavior through mental images or verbal explanations.  Once saved, we “bring up” the image or the verbal explanation so we can reproduce it in our behavior. In this second step, imagery and language have a big role in our competence to remember the observation;


    When children get to this step it means they can translate the images or explanations into real behavior. It means that after we have paid attention and remembered the information, it’s time to reproduce the observed behavior. Another important tip about this third step according to Bandura is that our ability to reproduce improves with practice, or by imagining our performance;


    The three previous steps are worth nothing unless the child isn’t motivated to imitate. Bandura recognized several motives, both positive and negative. He perceives past, promised, and explicit reinforcement as positive motivation (giving us a reason to imitate someone) while past, promised, and vicarious punishment as negative motivation (giving us a reason not to imitate someone).


    Albert Bandura’s social learning theory has an impressive impact in the fields of social learning and education and is a powerful tool for understanding children’s behavior, relations, and attitudes. Besides its huge effect, the social learning theory offers the following benefits:

    • It’s flexible and dynamic enough to be related to a variety of behaviors both in formal and informal learning environments;
    • It’s adaptable and promotes the idea that learning happens through observation, reproduction, and practical hands-on experience;
    • It’s useful and can be applied in different settings constantly demonstrating strong connections between social learning concepts and behavior;
    • It provides strong outcomes, increased engagement, and enhanced communication.

    Since we’re aware of the social learning theory’s impact and benefits, it’s time to incorporate it in our classroom. The best way to do that is to make sure our learning environment is based on:

    • Empathy, care, and positive reinforcement to shape appropriate behavior, and build self-efficacy;
    • Modern learning programs where teachers are merely guides rather than lecturers. Teachers help students to continue their learning through the observation of behaviors and actions of both teachers and peers, encouraging them to apply the observations they’re praised for;
    • Gamification that turns the classroom into a more interactive learning environment by using competitive games with rewards for winners to attract students’ attention;
    • Simulation (digital, research-based) that helps to create an interesting and fun classroom setting, keeping students fully engaged;
    • Coaching peers so students can learn from each other. To assure successful peer coaching teachers pair students that feel comfortable and secure with each other while learning math, paper writing, editing, and much more. Teachers also engage older students as more experienced models for passing on their knowledge to their younger peers; 
    • Good classroom management that offers teachers and students the opportunity for successful teaching and learning;
    • Encouraging and teaching desirable behaviors in the classroom through praise, positive reinforcement, and prizes. Praised students for raising their hand to speak aloud will repeat their behavior, and other students will repeat and imitate that specific behavior as it stimulates a positive result;
    • Level-appropriate engaging lessons that occupy students’ attention;
    • Use of as many different activities as possible to help students retain information and behaviors;
    • A multisensory method that helps increase retention;
    • Motivation to make observational learning successful. By motivating the observer, he/she will most likely reproduce the behavior;
    • Enthusiastic and passionate teachers who motivate students to learn, as students are likely to reproduce their teacher’s behavior;
    • Boosting students’ confidence, beliefs, and self-efficacy through verbal encouragement, and positive and constructive feedback. Confident students who believe that they can reproduce a specific behavior are more likely to try and succeed. Unconfident students who don’t believe that they can carry out a task are less likely to make an effort and may end up failing;
    • Pairing students (a higher ability student with a student that is struggling) in the classroom through joined assignments, making sure they observe their fellow students as well as their teachers;
    • Group work where learning occurs through peers’ observation, as it’s more likely for students to pay attention to their peers than their teachers. When teachers organize group projects they should place less motivated students in a group with extremely motivated students, so the motivated ones can influence the unmotivated ones to take on some responsibility and start learning;
    • Observational learning through a live model (a person acts out or shows the desirable behavior- ex. children watch their parents read), a verbal instruction model (a person’s behavior is explained or described- ex. problem-solving situation), and a symbolic model (a real or fictional person shows the behavior on TV, online, in books- ex. an act of altruism, bravery).

    Throughout his entire career, Albert Bandura had many achievements. Nevertheless, he was most proud of his career as a professor. He thought that the “knowledge and guidance he passed on to students” around the world was his greatest triumph!

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