Join us for YTH Live Global! Learn More

ETR Logo ETR Logo ReCAPP logo

etr presents YTH LIVE Global 2021: October 4-6: Virtual. Register now at

Theories & Approaches

All Theories & Approaches

Social Learning Theory

Welcome to Social Learning Theory! In this section, you will find the following:

Definition and Rationale for Social Learning Theory

Learning theories attempt to explain how people think and what factors determine their behavior. Social Learning Theory (SLT) is a category of learning theories which is grounded in the belief that human behavior is determined by a three-way relationship between cognitive factors, environmental influences, and behavior.

In the words of its main architect, Albert Bandura, "Social learning theory approaches the explanation of human behavior in terms of a continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental determinants" (Social Learning Theory, 1977).

This three-way reciprocal relationship is presented in the graphic below:

In the application of SLT, the learner is encouraged to:

  • observe and imitate the behaviors of others,

  • see positive behaviors modeled and practiced,

  • increase their own capability and confidence to implement new skills,

  • gain positive attitudes about implementing new skills, and

  • experience support from their environment in order to use their new skills.

SLT is a valuable and effective tool for health educators who want to assist their students in gaining new health supporting skills. SLT can help educators determine why certain learning activities work, and why other activities aren’t very effective.

Many health educators feel that SLT is consistent with their own experience and "hunches" of what works in prevention programs. But SLT has more than "hunches" to back up its efficacy. Many prevention programs, based on SLT and other theories, have undergone rigorous research-based evaluations to determine if they have been effective in positively changing health behavior.

In the arena of sexuality and prevention alone, only a handful of programs have been shown to significantly and positively change sexual risk taking behavior. The majority of those programs (six out of eight) are based totally or in part on SLT.



Next: Social Learning Theory's Major Concepts