Social Learning Theory the Father Thesis

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Bandura's theories can be applied to a number of fields other than the clinical setting.

Social Learning and Social Work

In the field of social work, Bandura's theory has sweeping consequences for workers and the clients that they serve. In the age of standardized tests, teachers must constantly struggle to understand the real meaning of assessment practices. With recent emphasis on assessment and standards-based instruction, it is important to keep the motivational constructs of Bandura in mind. According to motivational theory, testing and assessment can have a negative consequence on a child's concept of self-efficacy (Shephard, 2000). This could decrease their motivation to learn and to attempt to do well on tests in the future.

This same concept applies to juveniles and adults. The social worker must realize that harsh criticisms and continual punishment can lead to reduced self-efficacy. If this happens, the client may be set up for future failures. Eventually, they will believe themselves to be a failure and will no longer attempt to make improvements. This is seen in the criminal justice system in youth who see the jail cell as a revolving door.

It is important for the social worker to understand the lasting affect that their client interactions have on the person. They must include the concepts of Bandura in their treatment plan. If one applies Social Learning Theory to social work, it becomes apparent that reward is a much more effective tool than punishment. Bandura tells us that we are much more complex than Skinner's rats, or Pavlov's dogs. We do not only seek to avoid negative consequences, we seek reward. However, in order to seek reward, we must first believe that the reward has value and that we have the ability to obtain the reward through our actions. Continual criticism is not likely to gain produce the behaviors the desired outcomes in clients.
The social worker must also be aware of the affects of modeling. If the client is in an atmosphere where undesirable behaviors become self-rewarding, it can only be expected that regardless of what the social worker does, their efforts are being thwarted by the primary learning environment of the client. This factor is important in work involving criminal behavior (Akers & Jensen, forthcoming). The social worker must approach the problem holistically in order to provide better models for the client's behavior.

As one can see, the tenets established by Albert Bandura had a profound affect on many areas of social work. The application of Bandura's theories in the social work setting can help to avoid many negative consequences in clients. The social worker must understand the key factors that influence motivation and the importance of using reward over punishment. Behaviors become self-rewarding, even if the behavior itself if undesirable. The environment of the client must be conducive to success in order for therapies to have a significant impact on changing their lives. The social worker must be aware of the long-term consequences of constant evaluation and criticism. The effective social worker can apply Bandura's theories on a daily basis to create a positive atmosphere for modeling new behaviors and patterns. Bandura's work is one of the most important theories that influenced modern clinical pedagogy and forms one of the most important theories in social work today.


Akers, R. & Jensen, G. (Forthcoming). Social Learning Theory and Crime: A Progress Report. Advances in Criminological Theory. To be published in Volume 15.

Boeree, G. (2006). Albert Bandura. Personality Theories. Retrieved November 11, 2008 at

Ormrod, J.E. (1999). Human learning (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Shephard, L. (2000). The Role of Assessment in a Learning Culture. Educational Researcher. 29 (7):4-14.

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