What is social learning, and how does it apply to HR?

Social learning theory was created by Albert Bandura and takes elements from cognitive learning theory and behavioral learning theory. Cognitive learning theory asserts that psychological factors are responsible for shaping learning, while behavioral learning theory claims environmental stimuli are the basis for learning, according to Psychology Today. A selective synthesis of these two theories, social learning theory posits that observing the actions of others has a direct impact on human behavior.

This theory may be applicable in the human resources sphere, particularly during the training process. The Houston Chronicle's Small Business blog recommends taking the following steps to apply the principles of social learning theory to teaching employees new skills and/or processes.

  • Modeling behavior: When training new employees, act out the procedures to which they'll be adhering. This will enable employees to envision themselves carrying out the task, and may even empower them to ask questions.
  • Imitation isn't just flattery: Having trainees copy your behaviors will help them retain the information.
  • Keep an eye on their progress: As your new employee imitates the behavior or task you have modeled, look out for mistakes. These might be caused by misunderstandings that can easily be remedied early on, which will prevent the need for the new employee to "unlearn" wrong habits.
  • Give mistakes weight: Make sure the person you're training learns they've made a mistake through a benign verbal correction, a written reminder or a formal write-up, depending on the situation. This principle also goes the other way — positively reinforcing a job well done will encourage your employee to repeat the correct process.

Many new hires prefer to learn by doing. Harnessing the helpful principles of social learning theory may help your human resources department offer the most effective training possible, and using HR software to provide training materials and monitor employee progress will streamline your team's operations.