What Is Social Learning (And Does It Work)?

Distance learning, e-learning, mobile learning, blended learning. There are a slew of educational learning trends that have been happening for years now. And now, we’re adding social learning to the mix. The something-learning trend is continuing to move forward, this time putting popular social media to use. Social learning employs things like gamification, peer feedback and review, ranking, and awards to engage students in the material and learning process.

The handy infographic below takes a look at the growing number of internet users worldwide, the proliferation of smartphone usage, and how leveraging these tools can benefit both students and teachers.

What Is Social Learning?

The term Social Learning was coined by Bandura, a behavioural Psychologist, in 1977. His Social Learning Theory states that children learn through observing the behaviour of adults and copying, or modelling their behaviour. We learn by observing the behaviour of others in our environment and seek acceptance in society by imitating others.

Peer review, which is when students check each others’ work, uses the Social Learning theory by giving students a chance to copy the behaviour of each other, in addition to a teacher. There is much evidence that peer review aids the retention of information and improves written work. Ho and Savignon (2007) found that students’ writing ability improved by using peer review and Moloudi (2009) found that not only do students improve, but they recognise the improvement in their studies that comes from peer review.

Another important element of peer review is repetition, a technique which is well-established in memory enhancement. Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve shows that with each repetition, memory improves by around 20% (1895). A Social Learning Platform provides a space for learners to repeat what they learn in class later on with their peers, and makes it easy for teachers to improve students’ learning & attainment by adopting the use of peer review via social media-like technology. Educational research shows the very positive attitude that students have to peer review and the pedagogical models that emphasise what enhances the retention of key knowledge by students.

Does It Work?

The world is coming online and cheap smartphones and tablets are facilitating this move. The proliferation of social media users shows that young people around the world are eager to connect with their peers and are highly proficient at doing so in personal contexts. These developments in web technology can be used for an education purpose, particularly peer review – supporting & encouraging each other and reflecting on the key learning points as they do so.

There is a generation whose starting point for information & engagement is not printed materials (a book, a newspaper) – but online social platforms: Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter. Students’ learning of English in schools and universities needs to capitalise on this new form of literacy. It is important for students to be able to keep practising outside of class in a medium which engages them and prepares them for the emerging mobile and social web technologies.

Have you used a social learning platform (or at least the premise of social learning) in your classroom? How did it go? Leave us a note in the comments to share!





  1. Joan Vinall-Cox

    December 20, 2013 at 12:24 am

    My students post their assignments on class wikis (Wikispaces) so they can check out each other’s work and learn from each other.

  2. carla asquini

    December 31, 2013 at 6:43 am

    My students use eTwinning, the most important e-learning network for teachers and schools in Europe

  3. Tina Watson

    January 9, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I have been using Twitter with my Primary level tutees. I started an alphabet word game that they contribute to. This is in tandem with their parents via smart phones/tablets so is a great combined family effort. They love it.

  4. Stephen cahill

    January 9, 2014 at 10:36 am

    We ask students to comment on each other’s blogs. We reinforce good quality blogs by pulling quotes onto the whiteboard during online sessions and giving credit to those original authors.

  5. kemal

    January 12, 2014 at 11:59 pm

    I think this is just a tool of Life Long Learning..

  6. Brandon Morgan

    January 15, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    I agree that social media and online tech are tools for academic and life long learning. My issue as of late has been with the large number of students that still do not have access to a smartphone or regular internet access. How can we reach those students?

  7. cblurton

    February 2, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    “The term Social Learning was coined by Bandura, a behavioural Psychologist, in 1977.”

    Social learning theory integrated behavioral and cognitive theories of learning in order to provide a comprehensive model that could account for the wide range of learning experiences that occur in the real world. As initially outlined by Bandura and Walters in 1963[1] and further detailed in 1977,[11] key tenets of social learning theory are as follows:[12]

    Learning is not purely behavioral; rather, it is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context.
    Learning can occur by observing a behavior and by observing the consequences of the behavior (vicarious reinforcement).
    Learning involves observation, extraction of information from those observations, and making decisions about the performance of the behavior (observational learning or modeling). Thus, learning can occur without an observable change in behavior.
    Reinforcement plays a role in learning but is not entirely responsible for learning.
    The learner is not a passive recipient of information. Cognition, environment, and behavior all mutually influence each other (reciprocal determinism).

    Social learning theory draws heavily on the concept of modeling, or learning by observing a behavior. Bandura outlined three types of modeling stimuli:

    Live model

    in which an actual person is demonstrating the desired behavior

    Verbal instruction

    in which an individual describes the desired behavior in detail and instructs the participant in how to engage in the behavior


    in which modeling occurs by means of the media, including movies, television, Internet, literature, and radio. Stimuli can be either real or fictional characters.

    Exactly what information is gleaned from observation is influenced by the type of model, as well as a series of cognitive and behavioral processes, including:[3]


    In order to learn, observers must attend to the modeled behavior. Attention is impacted by characteristics of the observer (e.g., perceptual abilities, cognitive abilities, arousal, past performance) and characteristics of the behavior or event (e.g., relevance, novelty, affective valence, and functional value).


    In order to reproduce an observed behavior, observers must be able to remember features of the behavior. Again, this process is influenced by observer characteristics (cognitive capabilities, cognitive rehearsal) and event characteristics (complexity).


    To reproduce a behavior, the observer must organize responses in accordance with the model. Observer characteristics affecting reproduction include physical and cognitive capabilities and previous performance.


    The decision to reproduce (or refrain from reproducing) an observed behavior is dependent on the motivations and expectations of the observer, including anticipated consequences and internal standards.

    An important factor in social learning theory is the concept of reciprocal determinism. This notion states that just as an individual’s behavior is influenced by the environment, the environment is also influenced by the individual’s behavior.[11] In other words, a person’s behavior, environment, and personal qualities all reciprocally influence each other. For example, a child who plays violent video games will likely influence their peers to play as well, which then encourages the child to play more often. This could lead to the child becoming desensitized to violence, which in turn will likely affect the child’s real life behaviors.

  8. Rodrigo

    February 20, 2014 at 7:35 am

    The platform that I use that approaches most to a social learning platform is Moodle. However it’s mainly a platform to organize contents and make assignments that you can assess. The social part of it comes through forums or wikis, but my experience tells me that students aren’t very prone to use them if it’s not mandatory.

    • Mari

      February 22, 2014 at 3:16 am

      I prefer platforms like edmodo or schoology because they offer possibilities that I don’t see in Moodle, such as direct Facebook-like posting and interaction that students today are so familiar with. They’re also easier to use, more user-friendly and also serve as a repository for class materials, like Moodle. In my opinion, instant communication and interaction on the course wall are the things that mark the difference.

  9. C N

    March 6, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    I think this is great for students because the number 1 thing that teachers have to do in the classroom is find a way that students can feel connected to their studies. Connection is key. Once you find a way to grab their interest (in this case, a technology resource), you don’t have to worry about the rest.

    Also, this is great for writing classes because students often write their best when their work is posted for others to see and if they feel that they have an audience.

    Great idea all around!