Social Learning Theory


As a learner takes in new information in a social context, she will need to consider if further pursuing more information about that topic falls within what she views as her identity.  She considers, “Is this who I want to be?”  The example DrWenger gives, in his lecture to the University of Brighton, is that of learning to be a wine connoisseur (  If, as a non-wine-drinker, you are at a friend’s home and he shares a glass of wine and comments on a specific quality of the wine with which you are unfamiliar and informs you of a wine tasting club in which he participates, you need to decide if being a person who learns more about wine is who you want to be.  You need to decide (and your brain does this quickly) if you would like to pursue an invitation to your friend’s wine club or not.  If you decide it is not who you want to be.  You will not pursue more knowledge about wine and be perfectly happy living your life as a non-wine-aficionado (or maybe chose to do it at a different point in your life).  If you do choose to attempt to become an expert wine consumer, you might attempt to join the group.  If you are allowed into the group, or community of learning, you will follow a journey along the path to knowledge through interactions of increasing intensity or complexity until you have reached the level you are satisfied with and perhaps become an expert yourself.  If you are not allowed into the group you are considered not to be a legitimate peripheral participant.  You will not have access to all the experts or near experts (or resources) in the club.  You are not part of the in crowd and thus get no perks.

Nick hears something interesting about ski jumping from a friend.  There is a community of ski jumpers in the area.  Nick considers if he would like to learn more about ski jumping.  He can decide whether to get involved as a participant in the ski club community on varying levels, connect with the local former olympic ski jumper to establish a role of apprenticeship, or pass on the learning entirely (or varying degrees inbetween).  If he choses to enter the group however (on an inward trajectory), he will not be accepted as one who is knowledgeable of ski jumping until he has proven his knowledge to the group in ways the group accepts as relevant.

In the ID role, we ought to consider the value of humans as social learners and our tendencies to invest time, effort, and energy into topics we identify with.  With adolescents, Wenger proposes we consider a particular field of knowledge that has been shaped by the past participants in that field in the shape of a hill ( ).  He suggests, we should not treat the students as experts in the field as they learn, but rather give them a helicopter ride to the top to see what the view is like.  Then, if they are interested in the view, they need to go back to the bottom and climb their way to the top through their own work.  We can build that excitement for a field to give the students curiosity, meaning and interest, then facilitate their interests by providing opportunities to participate and interact with experts or other seniors in the field.  I think Twitter offers great opportunities for educators to reach out to experts.  I have connected with the woman who voiced Siri over twitter (she actually followed me first – it was pretty fun to see that!).  She would be a good connection if I were teaching kids about voice acting, the field of voice to text, AI and possibly more.

Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of learning for instruction (3rd ed., pp. 164-170). Boston, MA. Pearson Allyn and Bacon.

Dr Etienne Wenger: Learning in landscapes of practice. (2013, November 06). Retrieved February 03, 2016, from

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