Social Learning Theory vs Operant Conditioning: Difference and Comparison

According to operant conditioning, behaviour is a result of its consequences. People learn how to act to achieve what they want or avoid what they don’t want. operational behaviour refers to voluntary or learned activity.


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The likelihood of repeating such action is determined by the reward or lack of reinforcement provided by the behaviour’s outcomes.

Key Takeaways

  1. Social Learning Theory proposes that individuals learn through observation, imitation, and modeling of behaviors.
  2. Operant Conditioning suggests that behavior is shaped through rewards and punishments.
  3. Social Learning Theory emphasizes the role of social interaction and cognitive processes, while Operant Conditioning focuses on the relationship between behavior and consequences.

Social Learning Theory vs Operant Conditioning

The difference between Social Learning Theory and Operant Conditioning suggests that nearly all types of learning take place as a result of observations. whereas The operant conditioning hypothesis suggests that any form of learning happens only when all of the associated consequences are followed.

Social Learning Theory vs Operant Conditioning

Social learning theory is just a knowledge-gaining and social behaviour theory. The theory claims that new behaviours may be learned by seeing and trying to imitate others.

Social learning theory claims that the process of learning is a community cognitive process. It may proceed only over opinion or straight education methods, even with the absence of motor imitation or direct reinforcement.

In operant conditioning, The behaviour is a result of its consequences.

People learn how to act to achieve what they want or avoid what they don’t want. In contrast to reflexive or unlearned conduct, operational behaviour refers to voluntary or learned activity.

The likelihood of repeating such action is determined by the reward or lack of reinforcement provided by the behaviour’s outcomes.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonSocial Learning TheoryOperant Conditioning
DefinitionLearning happens through observation, according to this theory.Learning happens when an action is followed by consequences, according to this theory.
Key conceptsMeditational (cognitive) processes, identification, and reinforcement.Punishment, reinforcement, and extinction.
StrengthsThe function of cognitive processes is incorporated and emphasized, and some of the more complicated actions are explained.Shaping conduct in many contexts; assisting mankind in better-integrating animals into its activities.
WeaknessesCan’t account for nonverbal actions like thinking and emotion; places a lot of focus on the environment as the primary impact on behavior.It’s difficult to extend animal research to people since it ignores genetic and cognitive variables.
ProponentAlbert BanduraBurrhus Frederic Skinner

What is Social Learning Theory?

In social learning theory, effective practical education takes place through observation. Identification, reinforcement, and mediational processes are the three key principles in the social learning process.

Observation is the first step in the learning process. People study and imitate the conduct of people they identify with, known as models.

These models have a lot of influence, and you’re likely to have a lot of them: instructors and parents, classmates and friends, or in the current scenario, media personalities.

Of course, numerous factors may be used to determine likeness, but sex appears to be the most prominent, with daughters more frequently copying their mothers and boys copying their dads.

The observed behaviour is subsequently repeated at the appropriate time and rewarded, either directly to the copied behaviour or indirectly through observation of the model.

Four mediational elements influence whether a behaviour is copied. The 1st is attention, and It just depends on how someone is in contact with or notices the model’s behaviour.

The 2nd is retention, and It is concerning how efficiently the action is recalled. The capacity to reproduce the behaviour is the third factor.

Last but not least is motivation, or the desire to act, contemplating the implications of the witnessed behaviour.

social learning theory

What is Operant Conditioning?

People learn through connecting activity with the consequences that follow, Positive and negative reinforcement are two types of reinforcement that enhance the chance of a person repeating an action.

Pleasant reinforcement, or delivering a reward, Gives the outline of optimistic stimulation for a behaviour. Negative reinforcement occurs when pre-existing negative cues are removed after the act is completed.

Punishment reduces the chance of repeating conduct and is available in two forms, but most publications refer to both as penalties.

The first 1st  is the overview of negative stimulation in response to any specific activity, which is essentially a genuine punishment. The elimination of positive cues after executing the act is the second kind.

Extinction is the third component of operant conditioning.

Positive and negative stimuli were presented to the test individuals in different degrees and intervals.

Through these studies, he discovered that reinforcement is more effective than punishment in shaping behaviour, as well as the appropriate degree and frequency of reinforcement to ensure that the behaviour is stronger and lasts longer.

it neglects to account for genetic and cognitive variables. There’s also the notion that because of the differences in anatomy and physiology between people and animals, we can’t extrapolate findings from animal research to humans.

operant conditioning

Main Differences Between Social Learning Theory and Operant Conditioning

  1. Albert Bandura proposed social learning theory, whereas Burrhus Frederic Skinner proposed operant conditioning.
  2. Meditational (cognitive) processes, identification, and reinforcement are essential ideas in social learning theory. Punishment, reinforcement, and extinction are essential ideas in Operant Conditioning.
  3. Theory learning is a type of social learning that takes place through observation. According to this idea, learning occurs when an action is followed by consequences.
  4. Social learning theory does not account for nonverbal activities such as thinking and emotion, and it is difficult to apply animal studies to humans since genetic and cognitive factors are ignored.
  5. The role of cognitive processes is included and highlighted in social learning theory, whereas operant conditioning aids in shaping behaviour in a variety of situations.
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