Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing a few blogs on the people and ideas that have shaped adult education, and professional development, as we know it today. The influencers and intellectuals we will be discussing have impacted many areas of professional life, including leadership, mentoring, marketing and communications in today’s organizations. The first case study is Albert Bandura, possibly the most influential psychologist of his time.

Albert Bandura

Albert Bandura is one of the most celebrated experts in behavioral science of all time. He is perhaps best known for the ‘Bobo Doll’ experiment.  With a video camera playing, he directed an adult to attack a large doll; she kicked it, pummeled it on the floor, and hit it with a mallet. The footage of this was shown to small children who were then, one by one, ushered into the same room with the doll, and then unleashed all manner of violence on the doll, just as the female actor had done. This simple experiment showed that what children see on television will directly influence how they behave and gave pause to the extant belief that watching violence is cathartic but presents no actual risk to society. The finding is still highly relevant today. Due to this, there may well be more complex societal affects associated with young teenagers, playing extremely violent computer games, than their parents understand.

Bandura took his work further by informing wide scale social change initiatives using television programmes. He identified that people’s behavior could be influenced on a very wide scale when popular characters in TV dramas and soap operas model healthy, socially desirable habits and ways of living. He showed that role modelling and mentoring can have a dramatic impact on how people behave, and potentially influence, the underpinning values that drive our habits and choices for the good.

Social Learning Theory

Bandura coined the term Social Learning Theory, a significant idea which states that an individual’s belief that a behavior will generate positive outcomes will reinforce the likelihood of the person modelling that behavior. As the ‘Bobo Doll’ experiment showed, the modelling of behavior can start very young. Both positive or destructive behavior can be engendered depending on what the child is exposed to. He also made the case for ‘vicarious conditioning’; this is where our behaviors and values can be influenced by what we see others being rewarded and punished for.

Social learning may not always be constructive. Detrimental and problematic behavior, such as gang related violence, may be explained by an individual’s association with peers who re-enforce and encourage socially destructive behaviors, which are none the less perceived as being positive when the lens of the individual becomes distorted. The bottom line is that how people in highly visible positions behave, and the values they model, makes a real difference to the behaviors of those who look up to them. This is something that is important to consider for leaders in education and training. This is something I try to be aware of in my professional life, and also when teaching InPD courses. Teachers, leaders and mentors might consider engaging with positive role modelling if they wish to develop certain desirable values, beliefs and behaviors in their students and colleagues.


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