Learning Theories and Their Practical Application to Behavior Change

Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory

Learning, according to Bandura, involves more than merely a shift in attitude. Learning is the acquisition of knowledge and the development of conduct based on that knowledge (Basri et al., 2020). Bandura believes that the challenge of thought phenomena is overvalued or only partially studied, based on observational educational psychology (Basri et al., 2020). Individuals can engage in symbolic cognition, they generally lead themselves in knowledge acquisition, and artificial conduct can impact their surroundings (Basri et al., 2020). According to Bandura, what matters is an individual’s ability to extrapolate ideas from another person’s conduct (Basri et al., 2020). The determination is taken as to which actions will be an option, and then the preferred behavior is carried out.

According to Bandura, the learning approach is an effort to describe learning in a naturalistic environment. The learning indictment of Bandura as the connection between cause and effect is that gaining a new reaction is not always evident. Individuals will do more than merely copy established conduct in a natural context, as per Bandura (Basri et al., 2020). It is possible to change a person’s actions and surroundings, except if someone authored it and chooses to consume it, a book does not seem to influence anyone. As a result, the consequence of punishment will be meaningless unless the emergence of the desirable outcome accompanies it. Complex conduct results from a three-way link between conduct, surroundings, and psychological event, rather than a two-way relationship between an individual and the surroundings (Basri et al., 2020). For instance, an individual who has trained will acquire a sense of self-assurance. That individual’s activity causes a fresh response, altering conviction and contributing to the subsequent conduct, which can be described even though that individual did not participate.

Clark Hull Drive Reduction Theory

Hull’s theory is based on the same concepts as other behaviorists, notably the stimulus-response relationship and the occurrence of rewards. This hypothesis is also being developed into a learning theory (Basri et al., 2020). According to Hull, anyone who studies must have need before the reaction may be improved by eliminating that need (Basri et al., 2020). The effectiveness of learning in this scenario is determined by the size of the diminution and fulfilment of the incentives that led to the person’s reaction (Basri et al., 2020). Every event or circumstance related to a drop in melancholy of event or occasion that can react to the need when the person responds might be significant as an accelerator (Basri et al., 2020). The reinforcing logic applies to all motivating events, from biological urges representing a person’s immediate need to rewarding outcomes such as money, recognition, compassion, and greater social desire.

As a result, the basic premise is that an individual must have a want or purpose before learning. Additionally, those who educate what is learnt must be seen as something that can lower their ability or meet their requirements (Basri et al., 2020). When the magnitude of the prize or incentive changes, so does the velocity of responding. As a result of this hypothesis, the incentive is a regulator of feedback speed, and this concept will shape children’s behavioral responses based on the present offered. This idea is only applicable to children; it does not apply to grownups (Basri et al., 2020). For instance, a student may develop a studying habit in a learning environment where gifts and prizes reward their hard work.

B.F Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Behavioral Theory

The term operant response refers to a reaction that arises and develops in response to external stimuli. Because they trigger an object’s response, such motivations are referred to as reinforcing stimuli or reinforcement (Basri et al., 2020). As a result, such responses are a result of previous conduct. For example, when a youngster learns to act and receives a reward, the child becomes more engaged in learning (Basri et al., 2020). The reflexive reaction is relatively limited in individuals, whereas the operant reaction is a significant component of human conduct and has practically unlimited modification potential (Basri et al., 2020). As a result, Skinner concentrates on the latter type of conduct, which is crucial in determining how to initiate, progress, and change behavior (Basri et al., 2020).

Skinner’s most significant aspect in the learning process is incentive or reward, and the goal of psychology is to anticipate conduct. As a result, operant conditioning is a type of learning in which a reaction is strengthened through spontaneous ignition. Operant conditioning ensures a reaction to a stimulus in schooling. The instructor may not lead the conduct toward the aim of conduct change if the learner does not recommend a response to the stimuli. The following are the different types of stimuli: first, positive reinforcement, which involves presenting a signal while raising the likelihood of a reaction. Second, negative reinforcement is linked to uncomfortable sensory restriction, which, if eliminated, leads to a reaction likelihood. Punishment entails delivering an unwanted behavior, and primary reward, which entails delivering a signal that meets physiological requirements.

Comparison between the Theories

The Social Cognitive Theory versus Operant Conditioning

Affiliation with a paradigm, reward, and meditational mechanisms are all critical elements in social learning theory. Reward, correction, and elimination are all explained in operant conditioning (Mowrer & Klein, 2019). For instance, in operant conditioning, an extrinsic motivation for students who get excellent results makes them more engaged in their learning. However, the habit of receiving a present will alter student development; they will always anticipate a reward and refuse to learn if no prizes are available. Thus, this will develop a habit till adulthood, and educational success is in everyone’s best interest for a prosperous future (Mowrer & Klein, 2019). For social cognitive theory, students in a school environment may learn to follow set school rules strictly in order to avoid receiving punishments from teachers.

The importance of thought functions is included and emphasized in social learning paradigms, which helps describe some of the more sophisticated actions. Operant conditioning has been used to shape behavior in a variety of circumstances and has also aided humans in better integrating animals into its operations (Mowrer & Klein, 2019). Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory was illustrated by the Bobo Doll experiment, while Skinner’s rat and pigeon trials illustrated operant conditioning (Mowrer & Klein, 2019). Learning is said to happen through observation in social cognitive theory, while learning is said to happen when conduct is accompanied by repercussions in operant conditioning.

Operant Conditioning versus Drive Reduction Theory

Hull uses a mathematical formula to predict the likelihood of a behavior in the drive reduction theory. For instance, if an individual consumes food when hungry, the negative feeling of starvation will be eliminated, and if they drink when dehydrated, the unpleasant feeling of dehydration will be eliminated (Mowrer & Klein, 2019). With operant conditioning, rewards are used to change the behavior of students towards the desired one (Mowrer & Klein, 2019). For instance, if a learner is commended or applauded, they will be motivated to perform better in future; yet, if the learner is ridiculed or ridiculed in front of the entire class, the performance will become nothing more but a procedure.

The work of the above discussed psychologists were influenced by earlier psychologists who set the foundation for learning and behavior changes of individuals. For instance, Skinner, the pioneer of the operant conditioning theory, was highly influenced by the works of earlier psychologists Ivan Pavlov, Edward Thorndike, and John Watson (Mowrer & Klein, 2019). Skinner’s operant conditioning borrows vast ideas from Ivan Pavlov’s Classical conditioning theory. For instance, Skinner’s uses a stimuli as a measure for behavioral change in learners, much as was used by Pavlov (Mowrer & Klein, 2019). John Watson, being the first psychologist to develop the theory of learning, influenced the works of Albert Bandura and Clark Hull. Watson’s learning theory, set the foundation, where the later psychologists borrowed ideas to develop their own theories.

Practical Applications of the Learning Theories to Promoting Behavior Change

The social cognitive theory is practically used to understand the role of observational learning in acquiring a desirable behavior among learners and individuals. For instance, an individual or a learner may acquire good moral behavior from their role models (Moller et al., 2017). When individuals associates themselves with role models then their behavior is expected to change to that of their role model. A practical example is where a learner aspires to be a physicist like Einstein. Such a learner’s behavior would be driven by the behaviors of Einstein’s. Additionally, the elimination of a beneficial result or the administration of a negative consequence can also be utilized to reduce a behavior through operant conditioning (Moller et al., 2017). If a learner speaks out of order in a classroom, for instance, they may be informed they will forgo leisure opportunities. As such, disruptive behaviors may be hindered as a result of the threat of punishment.


Basri, H., Amin, S., Mirsa, U., Mukhlis, H., & Irviani, R. (2020). Learning theory of conditioning. Journal of Critical Reviews, 7(8), 1-9. Web.

Moller, A. C., Merchant, G., Conroy, D. E., West, R., Hekler, E., Kugler, K. C., & Michie, S. (2017). Applying and advancing behavior change theories and techniques in the context of a digital health revolution: Proposals for more effectively realizing untapped potential. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 40(1), 85-98. Web.

Mowrer, R. R., & Klein, S. B. (2019). A contrast between traditional and contemporary learning theory. In Contemporary Learning Theories. Routledge.

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1. PsychologyWriting. "Learning Theories and Their Practical Application to Behavior Change." September 22, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/learning-theories-and-their-practical-application-to-behavior-change/.


PsychologyWriting. "Learning Theories and Their Practical Application to Behavior Change." September 22, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/learning-theories-and-their-practical-application-to-behavior-change/.