Learning Theories/Social Learning Theories


When most people think of learning, they conjure up thoughts of sitting in a classroom, working on a worksheet or assignment, listening to the teacher lecture, or taking a test. In the United States, this has been the model for decades. The U.S. is an individualistic nation, hence the reason why education and schools in the United States are taught in an individualistic manner. Social learning theory would seek to dispel this idea that learning should be an individual enterprise. It should be participatory in manner, reinforcing the idea that "no man is an island".

Social theory of learning is not only academic. It examines how we interact with the world around us. “It (social learning theory) is relevant to our daily actions, our policies, and the technical, organizational, and educational systems we design” (Wenger, 1998, p.11). Thus, social learning theory has value to all members of society.

An Example of Social Learning Theory: Communities of Practice

The learning theory “communities of practice” is a social learning theory and an idea that learning is best accomplished through collaborative learning, not by teaching students individually. As mentioned above, The majority of schools in the U.S. today use an individualistic approach to teaching. This methodology teaches, trains, and assesses the student individually. Communities of practice seek to shift this paradigm.

Proposed by Etienne Wenger in the 1990s, communities of practice include the idea that “learning is as much a part of our human nature as eating or sleeping” (Wenger, 1998, p. 3). Communities of practice learning theory do not replace other learning theories. Rather it coincides and compliments them. Communities of practice operate from four basic premises or assumptions. These assumptions are: (1) human beings are social creatures and social learning strategies should be utilized when teaching, (2) knowledge is demonstrated through competence, (3) learning is a matter of participating and active engagement with the world, and (4) learning produces meaning and makes engagement with the world meaningful.

At the root of the idea behind communities of practice is social interaction. Participation is not just involvement with another individual or individuals. It is a “more encompassing process of being active participants in the practices of social communities and constructing identities…” (Wenger, 1998, p. 4). When using social participation in the school, workplace, or other locales and establishing communities of practice, the following criteria should be a focus: (1)A common interest among group members should be fostered. This will assist in developing relationships and rapport among group members,(2)the purpose of the group is to learn a new concept or accomplish a task. Consequently, it should take a significant amount of time for the group to learn this new concept or accomplish the task or project., and (3)peers should be teaching each other regularly throughout the time period that the group meets.


Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice Learning Meaning and Identity. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books? hl=en&lr=&id=heBZpgYUKdAC&oi= fnd&pg=PR11&dq=etienne+wenger+community+of+practice&ots=kdohYsdD0i&sig= QwDH_ZLYbd6XhT6VxyRgj_5 MEec#v=onepage&q=etienne%20wenger%20community%20of% 20practice&f=false.