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Theories & Approaches

All Theories & Approaches

Social Learning Theory's Major Concepts

Social Learning Theory (SLT) is based on a series of many psychological concepts, some generally familiar to educators (like "reinforcement") and some not (like "reciprocal determinism"). Most of the published works on SLT are lengthy and research oriented. Therefore, SLT can seem complex and complicated to educators. In attempts to present it simply and clearly, only the key concepts will be explored in depth.

Table 1, excerpted with minor modifications from "Theory at a Glance: A Guide for Health Promotion Practice" (1997), presents definitions and applications for each of the six key concepts. Examples of the six key concepts as they apply to sexuality education are presented in Table 2.

Table 1

1. Expectations Individual's beliefs about likely results of actions. Incorporate information about likely results of advised action.
2. Observational Learning

Individual's beliefs based on observing others like self and/or visible physical results of desired behavior.

Point out others' experience, physical changes; identify role models to emulate.
3. Behavioral Capability Knowledge and skills needed to influence behavior. Provide information and training about action.
4. Self-Efficacy Confidence in ability to take action and persist in action. Point out strengths; use persuasion and encouragement; approach behavior change in small steps.
5. Reciprocal Determinism Behavior changes resulting from interaction between person and environment; change is bi-directional. Involve the individual and relevant others; work to change the environment, if warranted.
6. Reinforcement Responses to a person's behavior that increase or decrease the chances of recurrence. Provide incentives, rewards, praise; encourage self-reward; decrease possibility of negative responses that deter positive changes.

For examples of what the six key concepts look like when applied to family life/sexuality education, review Table 2 below:

Table 2

Abstinence Education Example
Correct Condom Use Education Example
1. Expectations Youth believe that using the refusal method will work without upsetting their partners. Youth believe that using condoms will protect them from pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted infections.
2. Observational Learning

Youth observe modeling of the refusal method (saying "no" to sexual activity) in class.

Youth observe modeling of how to effectively put on a condom.
3. Behavioral Capability Youth gain information about abstinence and the refusal method as well as practice using the refusal method. Youth gain information about condom use and practice how to effectively put on a condom.
4. Self-Efficacy Youth feel confident they can use the refusal model correctly. Youth feel confident they can use condoms correctly.
5. Reciprocal Determinism Youth place an advertisement in the local paper promoting teen abstinence. Youth survey condom availability in community stores and request identified stores to carry specific brands.
6. Reinforcement Youth receive praise for proper practice of the refusal model. Youth have positive associations with abstaining from sex such as, "abstaining keeps me healthy," and "abstaining allows me to focus on school" that will self-reward their abstinence in the future. Youth receive praise for proper condom demonstration. Youth have positive associations connected with condom use such as, "It will keep me healthy," and "I can relax and enjoy myself more" that will self-reward their condom use in the future.


Next: How Social Learning Theory was Developed