Social learning

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Social learning can refer to various subjects, e.g. social theories of learning, social learning pedagogies, organizational or societal learning, or the use of social software in learning.

Many theorists developed social learning theories, e.g. Vygotsky, in the 1930ies, regarded the individual as part of an environment and he defined the role of ZPD as essential for child development. Bandura in the sixties theorized social interactions in his Social cognitive theory). Lave and Wenger defined learning through participation in communities of practice.

For some authors, e.g. Read (2010), social learning must “go beyond the individual to become situated within wider social units or communities of practice within society; and Occur through social interactions and processes between actors within a social network, either through direct interaction, e.g., conversation, or through other media, e.g., mass media, telephone, or Web 2.0 applications.”

Since the advent of social networks, social learning also can refer to formal or informal learning that makes use of social networking technologies and practice. The latter definition relies on older theories on social learning, but makes the point that social learning has become more powerful, in particular with respect to workplace learning and informal additions to formal learning.

In summary, the term social learning can mean many things and a precise definition should be provided in the beginning of a text referring to this concept. Most often, "social learning" refers to learning with and through others in one or another perspective, but it also can refer to organizational or societal learning.


Learning theory
Educational approaches / domains
Social learning and technology


  • Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Bandura, A. 1977. Social learning theory. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, USA.
  • Muro, M., and P. Jeffrey. 2008. A critical review of the theory and application of social learning in participatory natural resource management. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 51:325-344.
  • Reed, M. S., A. C. Evely, G. Cundill, I. Fazey, J. Glass, A. Laing, J. Newig, B. Parrish, C. Prell, C. Raymond and L. C. Stringer. 2010. What is Social Learning?. Ecology and Society 15 (4): r1. HTML] (Open access)
  • Wenger, E. 1998. Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press, New York, New York, USA.
  • Wildemeersch, D., T. Jansen, J. Vandenabbeele, and M. Jans. 1998. Social Learning. A new perspective on learning in participatory systems. Studies in Continuing Education 20:251-265.--------

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