Social Learning:How Children/Adolescents Learn through Self-Regulation and Reinforcements

by Lester Long Jr.  MS CPC BS CSS CADC CPS                                                 


       The social learning theory posits that learning comes through modeling and observation. It is therefore important to see how much impact the self-regulatory process has in the utilization of this learning on children/adolescent goal achievement. Self- regulatory strategies are also important in developing a pathway to success and none  more important than motivation. Positive reinforcement is a central key to maintaining self-efficacy and self-esteem- two elements that lead to goal achievement. This is true with children as well as adolescents. In the area of academic learning, past instruction may have been based on teaching all students the same way without consideration of ability or culture but more studies have shown that individualized learning couple with self-regulation and reinforcement can enhance success.

Social Learning:

How Children/Adolescents Learn through Self-regulation and   Reinforcements

The impact of social learning and self-regulated learning has on students both children and adolescents can be tremendous in terms academic success. The social learning theory provides us with an understanding of how modeled behavior through observation is reinforced and processed. This review will attempt to explain the importance of how self-regulatory processing helps students develop goals and how through a process of metacognition bring them to reality.  This analysis will demonstrate the role feedback plays in dynamic cognitive activity of students and how it unfolds during self-regulated learning. It will also show how discriminative stimuli play an important role in developing intrinsic self-regulation.  This operant conditioning component and self-regulation help students chose the most optimal strategies in seeking goal achievement. Social learning working with these  other two components is the often the key to the development of students’ achievement.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The

The basic foundation of any degree of learning is the ability to processing information. This must occur in order for students to be effective in any transfer process. Social theorists posit that learning is a process that requires a cognitive ability to process through observation and recall.  The self-regulatory process provides not only that ability, but the ability to determine options. We will show the importance of utilizing these strategies in self-directed learning.

Operant conditioning therapists posit that reinforcement provides motivational strategies that enhance student learning. We will show how reinforcement working hand and hand with social learning help students develop a sense of self-efficacy and better self-esteem. These two factors are important in helping students become efficient learners. Butler and Winne (1995) point out that in an academic context; self-regulation is a style of engaging in task in which students exercise a suite of powerful skills.  These skills through a self-monitoring process bring about desired objectives. It is important for us to understand that in the self-regulated learning process discrepancies often exist between current and desired performance role in directing educational achievement, so it is important that self-regulatory students, both children and adolescents, develop self-reinforcement through intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy. An understanding of these strategies should help educational psychologist develop a better understanding of enhancing teaching methods.

Social Learning and Self-regulation

The social learning theory posits that children learn through a process of modeling and observation and that this learning develops as a result of a number of environmental factors. Broderick and Blewitt (2010) point out that this kind of learning, one person (the learner) observes another (the model) performing some behavior, and from just close observation, learns to do it too. However, in the reproduction of this behavior one finds that there are negative consequences if a self regulatory process does not take place. Schunk (2006) points out that self-regulated behavior involves choosing among alternative courses of action, typically deferring an immediate reinforcement in favor of a different, usually greater, future reinforcement.  An adolescent might decide that going to college is more important than drinking alcohol and hanging out with friends. This in the self-regulatory process context, is a decision to choose a greater reinforcer.   So as children, we develop self-regulatory processes which consist of the ability, not only to observe behaviors but to process them based on reinforcements and the effects thereof.  The determining factor in many cases, as to whether a particular behavior is modeled, is often based on consequential processing. See the behavior, modeling the behavior but in addition to the reinforcement, process whether the consequence may be greater than the reinforcement. In addition to a self-regulatory process, self monitoring plays an important role in the metacogntion process.  Schunk (2006) points out that self-monitoring, help students become more aware of existing behaviors that assist them in evaluating and improving behaviors. Self-monitoring students are students who constantly check and re-check situations and circumstances.

Self-regulation has come to be more emphasized in the social learning theory. Ormrod (1999) points out that the self-regulatory process is when the individual has his or her own ideas about what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior and chooses action accordingly. The self-regulation and social learning are integral parts of each other because social learning provides children with an understanding of standards through an observational processes and self-regulation provides them with the options to judge that which is workable and that which is not. Social learning theorist point out that promoting self-regulation can be an important technique. This is done by teaching individuals to reward him or herself after doing the needed behavior. Self-regulation provides social learning, not only with the ability to set of standards and goals, but master them with self-observation, self-judgment, and self-reaction. Self- regulation works hand and hand with social learning to promote self-instruction, self-monitoring, and self-reinforcement.

Abromitis (2010) argues that self-regulated learners are those who possess a systematic approach to their actions including the act of absorbing knowledge, mastering a performance, or thinking metacognitively. Bandura (1985) described this type of learner as an agent in a larger social cognitive model, where a student’s personal characteristics and behavioral patterns are intertwined with environmental factors associated with the task that determine the extent to which the learner is successful. The self-regulatory system elaborates on this model by looking closely at what an individual brings to a specific task and  during the completion of the task, whether it is playing a sport, doing a chore, or completing a classroom assignment. Intrinsic/ extrinsic motivation and self-efficacy plays an important role in the promotion of the self-regulatory process. Teacher can promote self-regulation by assisting students with prioritizing assignment and time management and help children with breaking down larger task into smaller one to make them more obtainable (Schunk, 2006).  Bandura (1997) makes it clear that teacher who consider their students’ self-efficacy beliefs, goal setting, strategy use, and other forms of self-regulation in their instructional plans not only enhance students’ academic knowledge, but they also increase their students’ capability for self-directed learning throughout their life span. Bandura (1986) posits that self-regulation is important because it promotes not only self-regulation but self-instruction, self-judgment, self-monitoring and self-reinforcement. However, the following conditions are necessary in order to be a successful regulator- Bandura’s social modeling conditions: Attention, retention, motor skills and motivation. Probably one of the most important aspects of self-regulation is vicarious learning. This process of learning produces a self-reinforcement that provides motivation for that student’s goal achievement.

Combined Systems of Conditioning and Cognition

The Social Learning Theory defined by Corsini and Wedding (2008) is a system that combines operant and classical conditioning with cognitive meditational processes. This, according to Corsini and Wedding, account for the development, maintenance, and modification of behavior. These qualities are extremely important to the self-regulatory process.  Zimmerman (1998) points out that research of self-regulation grew out of the efforts to explain a proactive effort of students to learn on their own –their personal initiative, resourcefulness, persistence, and sense of responsibility. For these proactive properties to emerge, self-motivation is necessary as well as self-directed learning competence. Self-regulatory models are also distinctive because they seek to understand academic studying from the student’s perspective, especially his or her self-image as a learner. Operant conditioning is also important to the self-regulatory process.  Schunk (2006) points out that from an operant conditioning perspective, one decides which behaviors to regulate. In addition, it establishes discriminative stimuli as a means to evaluate performance in terms of whether it matches standards and administers reinforcement.

Self-regulatory Strategies

Students that develop self-regulatory strategies tend to be more goals oriented towards successful task performance. Weinstein and Mayer (1986) make it clear that strategies include activities such as selecting and organizing information, rehearsing material to be learned, relating new information in memory, and enhancing new material. Techniques that can be employed is creating and maintaining a positive climate: for example, developing ways to overcome test anxiety enhance self-efficacy, and students learning to appreciate the value in learning, as well as developing positive outcomes expectations and attitudes.  Use of strategies is an integral part of self-regulated learning because strategies give learners better control over information processing (Winne, 2001).

Schunk (2006) posits that learning strategies are important because they assist in each phase of encoding. Thus, the learner attends to relevant task information and then transfers it from the sensory register to the Working Memory (WM). Learners, in addition, activate relate knowledge in the Long Term Memory (LTM). In WE, learners build connections between new information and prior knowledge and integrate these links into LTM.  The individual set of self-regulation strategies that are usually used by successful students fall into three categories: personal, behavioral, and environmental. The personal strategies include: organizing and transforming information, goal setting, planning/standards setting, keeping records and rehearsing and memorizing. The behavioral include: Self-evaluation and self consequating. The final self-regulated strategies (environmental) include: Information seeking, environmental structuring, and seeking social assistance.

Dunn (1997) points out that there are a range of behavioral responses to sensory input that reflect the child’s self-regulation strategies. He continues to point out that at the end of this continuum there are passive self-regulatory strategies, in which the person lets sensory events occur. Passive self-regulation can mean that the person missed things or felt overtaken by things that are happening around them. For example, a person with passive self-regulation might miss the visual input of facial expressions or gestures during socialization. Conversely, a person with passive self-regulation might notice everyone fidgeting in class, and this input could complete with the teacher’s lecture.

At the other end of the continuum are active self-regulation strategies; people with active strategies select and engage in behaviors to control their own sensory experiences (Dunn, 1997). Accordingly, active self-regulation can yield more or less sensory input. For example, a person might hum or whistle while playing cards to add sensory input to keep attentive to the game. Conversely, a person might move to a quiet room while studying as a means of controlling auditory input to increase concentration. Both passive and active strategies for self-regulation can be helpful and useful to the person or can interfere with the ability to participate in daily life.

Zimmerman (2000) posits that the study of improvement in self-regulation for learning is a field of great current interest, however, it is quite accepted that the lack of self-regulation strategies in learning leads to poor learning processes and poor performance. The lack of performance in our school system today is directly link to poor self-regulated strategies. It is important that more study in this area continue. We must find and develop better ways and means for teachers to assist students in improving self-regulated strategies in order that directed goals of learning can be reached.  Likewise, self-regulatory strategies once learned must be utilized by students through metacognition to improve performance.

At the social level, consideration and treatment of this problem is equally apparent as it has been assigned much relevance in recent years. (Romera,n.d.) points out that the increasing proliferation of councils directed towards instruction in learning strategies and techniques is without a doubt, a clear example of this in an educational context, and in response to this growing interest, is the ever-increasing evidence of close ties between learning strategies and academic performance. It seems necessary to put effective procedures for evaluating students in the use of such strategies at the disposition of educators throughout the various educational stages.  (Romera, n. d.) also points out that evaluation of learning strategies has been insufficiently applied in our schools to date, especially in Early Childhood Education. The circumstance is due, among other reasons, to the indirect nature of procedures used to get at the strategic behavior of students, such as is the case in using reference systems like language or the observation of displayed behaviors.

Social Learning, Reinforcement, and Adolescence

Social learning theorist posits that children learn as a result of observation and modeling and the reproduction of that modeling process is an indicator of learn precision. These socially learned children develop beliefs and values as well as behaviors that carry into adolescents. However, there is an attempt by many adolescents to develop their own identity as well as beliefs and values and sometimes this attempted identity does not always fit with the “norms” of the larger society.  Adolescence is the time that peer pressure is at its height. Young adults want to be accepted by other young adults, especially if they see that peer behavior is reinforced. However, many of the beliefs, values and behaviors of peers cause direct conflict with childhood beliefs, values, and behaviors and this can cause cognitive dissonance. The anxiety suffered from this situation, however, may in some cases enhance, the self-regulatory process. Because the adolescent is given two distinct alternatives from which they have to choose and the most optimal chose can lesson anxiety when behaviors become more consistent with values and beliefs.

When evaluating childhood experiences negative or abnormal behavior starts way before adolescence. It many cases it starts with early childhood as result of observed or modeled of parental behaviors. Zimmerman (1988) posits that self- regulation measures adolescents’ ability to monitor their activities, assess their performances, motive them, and maintain resiliency… Self-regulation draws on social cognitive functioning, and therefore adolescence is a particular salient developmental period for the creation of self-regulation. Self-control is one element of self-regulation and as adolescence foster to maturity, it given them greater control over their impulses and help them act more appropriately. Adolescents rely on both external and internal resources for future success.

In the area of educational achievement, adolescents’ future plans are often not accompanied by specific strategies for achieving educational and occupational goals.  The majority of adolescents today expect to attend college; in fact, adolescents attend college in higher numbers than ever before (Schneider &Stevenson, 1999). Because of the highly ambitious nature of young people today, completion is more intense than ever before, and adolescents must develop a greater self-regulatory process to achieve their goals. Research on self-regulation’s role in education has generally focused on academic achievement. Students who display higher levels of self-regulation perform better on academic task (Zimmerman and Bandura, 1994). Self-regulation of learning is extended and applied to academic success in terms of taking the steps of transitioning to postsecondary education or gainful employment. Being a self-regulated student prepares one for immediate academic success. Owens and Schneider (2005) revealed that longitudinal interview data from 50 adolescents indicted that an early sense of realism, or knowledge about requirements of one’s future goals, contributes to adolescents’ self-regulation, or willingness to regulate actions to achieve those goals.


In summary, the social learning theory, self-regulation through reinforcement work to enhance student achievement. These are important because self-regulation helps students with a process to monitor and modify behaviors that may be counter-productive to meeting set objectives. Children, as well as, adolescents learn to reproduce behaviors that are given positive reinforcement. It is important than that the observation of a given model can provide students with the ability to develop a pathway to goal achievement. Motivation plays a key role in developing a self-regulatory process because it includes contextual factors. Motivation places the responsibility on student as well as the teacher. It also determines how much energy a student is willing to put in to achieve desired goals.

In this review we attempted to touch on a number of areas regarding the self-regulatory process, but none more important than how Dunn (1997) described ‘people with active strategies select and engage in behaviors to control their own sensory experiences’ (p.1). It is important to note that the development of the ability to take in information and utilize it to the advantage of the learner has a great deal to do with that person’s maturity level to regulate. The self-regulatory process is of great interest to researchers today because it helps to provide an answer to a basic question; “why some students excel and others don’t”?

We have come to understand that academically successful students are students that successfully development the following strategies: Personal, Behavioral and Environmental. We have also observed that adolescence is a time when students are truly faced with chooses and must implore self-regulatory strategies that can have a impact both on educational and occupational success in the future. These skills become extremely important in making decisions about college and what area of study best fits the individual.

It appears that self-motivation and self-efficacy plays an important role in how students see themselves in terms of success. This review hopefully has shown us that when a self-regulatory process and metacognition is successfully implored by the student, he or she can reach their highest potential. This review has examine many different views of educational psychologist but the one thing they seem to all agree upon is that more research is essential.


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About lester long Jr.

Lester Long Jr. has a Master of Science degree in Psychology from Walden University, a Certificate in Professional Counseling from Capella University. He has a BS in Public Administration and Political Science from Western Michigan University. He is also Certified in Clinical Supervision and an Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium. He is Certified as a Peer Specialist in the State of Georgia. Mr. Long is also a former member of the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners in Kalamazoo County, Michigan.. Please leave any comments for Lester Long at
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2 Responses to Social Learning:How Children/Adolescents Learn through Self-Regulation and Reinforcements

  1. I thought this post brought a better understanding of how self-regulated learning together with reinforcement plays a positive role in student learning.

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