Difference Between Social Learning Theory and Operant Conditioning

According to operant conditioning, behavior is a result of its consequences. People learn how to act to achieve what they want or avoid what they don’t want. operational behavior refers to voluntary or learned activity. The likelihood of repeating such action is determined by the reward or lack of reinforcement provided by the behavior’s outcomes.

Social Learning Theory vs Operant Conditioning

The main difference between Social Learning Theory and Operant Conditioning It 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 vs operant conditioning

Social learning theory is just a knowledge gaining and social behavior theory. The theory claims that new behaviors 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 behavior 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 behavior refers to voluntary or learned activity. The likelihood of repeating such action is determined by the reward or lack of reinforcement provided by the behavior’s outcomes.

Comparison Table Between Social Learning Theory and Operant Conditioning

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

Four mediational elements influence whether a behavior is copied. The 1st is attention, It just depends on how someone is in contact with or notices the model’s behavior. The 2nd is retention, It is concerning how efficiently the action is recalled. The capacity to reproduce the behavior is the third factor. Last but not least is motivation, or the desire to act contemplating the implications of the witnessed behavior.

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 behavior. 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 behavior, as well as the appropriate degree and frequency of reinforcement to ensure that the behavior 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.

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 behavior in a variety of situations.


Operant conditioning is depicted in a variety of ways, according to the instructor. If a commissioned salesman wants to make a good living, he or she must generate a lot of sales in his or her region. Of course, the connection may also be used to train the individual to participate in activities that are counter to the organization’s best interests.

People can learn by seeing what occurs to others and just being informed about something, in addition to having firsthand experiences. Much of what we’ve learned comes from seeing role models, such as parents, teachers, classmates, movie and television actors, employers, and so on.

The operant conditioning theory is extended into the social-learning theory.  It also recognizes the role of perception in learning and the presence of observational knowledge. People react to how they define and observe consequences rather than the actual ones.


  1. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1362480699003004006
  2. https://journals.aom.org/doi/abs/10.5465/amr.1980.4288758
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