Social learning theories have really become mainstream today’s education world as a result of the increase of social media (Laureate, 2010). The theories are based on the basic principle that knowledge is built through social interactions. The concept of the zone of proximal development provides a baseline for this theory. It states that a learner can only acquire a certain amount of knowledge on their own. To reach above this zone, the learner needs a “more knowledgeable other” (Laureate, 2010). This other person is needed to aid the learner in acquiring knowledge. This is where we as educators should be. The acquisition of knowledge that falls into our students’ zone of proximal development should be individual. The knowledge that falls above the zone is where we need to focus our attention and there are a variety of methods available to accomplish this.
One of these methods is cooperative learning. By having students work together, students themselves become the more knowledgeable others. They become supports for each other and are integral parts of building their knowledge together (Palmer, Peters, & Streetman, 2003). As educators, it is important that the tasks that cooperative learning groups are asked to complete are challenging and are in fact above the zone of proximal development. A common error that educators make when using cooperative learning activities is that students are not challenged enough to effectively allows students to build knowledge together (Laureate, 2010).
Technology has led to an increased focus of social learning theories. With social networking websites and applications becoming the norm for today’s teenagers, it’s important for educators to examine possible effectiveness in the classroom. Understanding why social networking has become so popular is the key to understanding how it can be used in education. This really boils down to the fact that individuals enjoy sharing thoughts and ideas and getting feedback from peers. It is the sharing of knowledge and the feedback that draw the interest of users. If this is the case, we as educators need to embrace this interest and include it in our cooperative learning activities. Not only can students learn cooperatively with students in their class, but they can now work cooperatively with anyone with an internet connection.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Program eight. Social learning theories [Webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Palmer, G., Peters, R., & Streetman, R. (2003). Cooperative learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved March 26, 2012, from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/.