A. (2015) suggests that Skinner’s theory of learning, Operant Conditioning, is a Behaviourist theory based on the idea that behaviours that are reinforced will continue and strengthen and behaviours that are punished will weaken and end. By using positive and negative reinforcers as a reaction to desirable behaviour, an association can be made between the desirable behaviour and a reward. This encourages the desirable behaviour to continue or increase. Likewise, by using positive and negative punishment as a reaction to undesirable behaviour, an association can be made between the undesirable behaviour and punishment. This encourages the undesirable behaviour to decrease or cease.
McLeod, S. A. (2016) suggests that whilst Bandura’s Social Learning Theory agrees with Classical and Operant Conditioning, he elevates these theories with the inclusion of the idea that behaviour is learnt through Observational Learning and Mediating Processes. Bandura’s experiments with the ‘Bobo Doll’ highlighted that children will copy behaviour that they see, these imitations occurred for both desirable behaviour (kindness) and undesirable behaviour (violence). Our ability to reflect on experiences and balance behaviour with consequence are skills that are developed with maturity and experience. It is this consideration to the thought processes involved in learning that make SLT a more inclusive explanation of learning than Behaviourism theories. With SLT, learning also occurs through ‘Vicarious Reinforcement’, simply by observing the rewarding and punishment of others can be enough to encourage imitation of their behaviour, it is the thought process of what has been observed that causes this decision to imitate the behaviour or not.
Positive attributes of Operant Conditioning, as suggested by McLeod, S. A. (2015), are the practical applications that the learning theory offers. For example, ‘Token Economy’ is used extensively in schools as a ‘Secondary Positive Reinforcer’. However, McLeod, S. A. (2015) suggests that Operant Conditioning is an incomplete explanation of the process of human learning due to its failure to consider ‘Cognitive Learning Factors’.
A positive attribute of SLT, as suggested by McLeod, S. A. (2016), is the theories’ ability to encompass the influence that the processing of thought has on imitating behaviour. For example, ‘Role Models’ are widely used in sport, the presentation of model behaviour producing advantageous results and achievements is enough to incite the desire to imitate such behaviour. SLT’s tendency to limit behaviour influencers to either ‘Nature’ or ‘Nurture’ attracts criticism, McLeod, S. A. (2016) suggests that a combination of both ‘Nature’ and ‘Nurture’ influence behaviour and this limitation leads to an underestimation by SLT of the complexity of human behaviour.
To conclude, its possible to see similarities and differences between the theories in that both agree that behaviour is influenced through observation however only SLT suggests that ‘Cognitive Learning Factors’ contribute to the learning of that behaviour. Both theories would be helpful to students in understanding how they learn as they both address the basic human desire to seek reward.