1.6.3 Behaviourism 2: Bandura and Social Learning Theory
This scenario discusses the use of social learning theory, as developed by Bandura, which has been discussed extensively in the main body of the chapter. As we read in the chapter, social learning theory can be seen as a development of behaviourism, in that the approach suggests that we can learn from the behaviour of others through modelling what they do and do not do, and that there is relevance for learning in the interactions between the individual in the learning situation, their cognitive needs, and their behaviour. Bandura's work also suggests that motivation to succeed is an important aspect of learning, as is a sense of self-efficacy.
In the scenario connected to the social learning theory approach to education, you are leading a class who are studying the workings of the British government: this might be in a politics and government class, in a general studies context, or as a tutorial activity as part of a broader civics education in line with the contemporary Ofsted guidance to uphold British values in education through citizenship studies. In the session, you are about to teach, you have decided to discuss first what Parliament means to many people, the kind of person who might become an MP, and the standards of behaviour and professionalism which we might expect to be upheld by our Parliamentary representatives.
Task: Based on Bandura's ideas about social learning theory, how might you approach this task?
The first part of the task to consider then, is what kinds of behaviour might the learners expect of MPs, and why might they expect those kinds of behaviour to be manifested? In the lesson, you show clips from a recent political debate programmes as well as material from that week's Prime Minister's Question Time. The excerpts have been chosen because they show the politicians at their loudest and most argumentative, keen to force their points home, and keen also to shout alternative opinions down.
The second part of the session is a discussion about the material which the learners have now watched. Some questions to consider include the difference between how the learners had considered public figures and politicians should act, and the ways that they have seen them act during the televised debates and in the Prime Minister's questions (PMQs). PMQs tend to be atypical, not least because it is the sole time that there is usually intense media interest in the daily workings of the House of Commons; attendance is generally much higher than usual, and the proceedings are both carefully orchestrated by governmental and opposition sides to create points for media scrutiny and for capturing on news broadcasts and in other forms of news commentary.
A follow-on activity (which may be done in this session, or in a subsequent session) is to run an in-class debate along the lines of either PMQs or a television debate programme like the BBC's Question Time, where four or five participants - each representing a different political perspective - are asked questions from a studio audience, with a moderator orchestrating the proceedings. The teacher sits in as moderator or speaker of the House of Commons, depending on the variant of debate chosen, and learners are given time to prepare positions on a range of current affairs topics for discussion. The debate is video-recorded for later analysis in-class.
After the debate session, the learners could complete feedback sheets on what they consider to be the strengths and issues of their performances, and on how effective they were in making their points, and perhaps also on winning others over to their positions. This series of linked activities gives a range of avenues for exploration about debating styles, persuasive language, the use of rhetoric, using evidence to back up points, and so on the identification of weaknesses and logical fallacies in the debating positions used by learners and others, including the public figures seen on the television excerpts. A combination of the video-recorded classroom debate exercise and the televised debates can be used to generate in the class a list of effective and less effective behaviours and debating styles. These identifications can then be used to inform other investigations of parliamentary practice and behaviour, and in the workings of the government being studied as part of the wider civic/politics education. It may be useful, for example, for learners to appreciate the difference between argument and discussion conducted in PMQs and in the many parliamentary committees; much of this material is televised on the BBC Parliament channel and is straightforward to access. The measured - and at times dry and clinical - tone of committee coverage can be at odds with the more brash and argumentative style of PMQs and Question Time; these styles of getting ideas across might also be compared further (perhaps as a homework assignment) with one-to-one political interviews such as those often broadcast on the main networks on Sunday morning politics recap and debate programming.
The list of identified effective behaviours can be used to inform future class interactions, both in the staging of a further debate exercise, and in the everyday conduct of classroom business. Learners can be directed to consider for themselves the benefits of effective modes of communication, organisation of arguments, use of proof and the like, and the less effective methods identified in their studies. Discussions throughout the politics-related studies can also investigate why there might be a lack of trust among parts of the electorate with politicians, and whether political representatives have a responsibility to conduct themselves always in more measured, formal, and mature ways. Alternatively, there can be discussion of the extent that argument, exaggeration and the decrying of alternate points of view might be useful in a debate, but might have a negative influence as much as a positive one.
Social learning theory can thus be of use in atypical learning situations not only in the appropriate modelling and reinforcement of preferred behaviours in learners, but also - as in this scenario - of learners making critical observations of the behaviours of others so that they can develop and refine their own persona and performance in such contexts, based on what has been mutually decided to represent positive and effective (and also negative and counter-productive) ways of being.
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