ATD Blog

Social Cognitive Theory and Workplace Learning

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

(From Skyler Greene's Hub Pages) -- Social cognitive theory is a learning theory that analyzes how thoughts, feelings, and social interactions shape the learning process. It focuses on some of the cognitive processes that employees engage in when they are learning.

Learning from others is known as vicarious learning. This is the process by which someone acquires behaviors or skills from someone else by watching their actions closely. The learner observes how the model acts and what the results of the model’s actions are. In an appropriate situation, the learner will then attempt to imitate the behavior.
This is one of the most common methods of on-the-job learning. This is why new hires are often paired with experienced employees for their first few weeks or months – they can learn how to react to a variety of situations through vicarious learning much more effectively than they could by reading an employee handbook.

Social cognitive theory also describes how individuals learn on their own. This occurs when individuals display self-control: they learn a behavior even when there is no external reinforcement telling them they should. Employees should be rewarded for displaying self-control, and managers should step back in such instances.
Self-efficacy is an important part of social cognitive theory. It is a “self-fulfilling prophecy” of sorts – employees who believe they will be able to do something successfully often go on to be successful at the activity in question. The definition of self-efficacy is “a person’s belief about their ability to successfully perform a certain behavior.”


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About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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