It’s not my intention to give full information or an extensive discussion on every theory. This website is intended to be a starting point and the main difference with other websites is the visual representation of the theory, which I hope will help get to grips with the theory. There are also links it the bottom to get your further research started.

Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura 1977 & 1986


Bandura’s Social Learning Theory (SLT), later renamed Social Cognitive Theory, sits in between the classic behaviourist model and the more cognitive approaches in that he supports classic theories such as that of Skinner, but he also has found strong evidence that there are mediational processes taking place between stimulus and externalised behaviour. Children process observed behaviour before externalising or not.

Both Pavlov’s and Skinner’s models posit that individuals are mere reactors to external stimuli. Bandura, on the other hand, on the basis of his Bobodoll experiments, argues that individuals are active agents in their own decision making when it comes to behaviour.


Bandura argues that there are 4 possible mediational processes:

  1. Attention – before we can imitate behaviour we have to notice it when it is modelled in the first place.
  2. Retention – we also need to retain observed behaviour, especially when reproduction isn’t immediate.
  3. Reproduction – our ability influences how much of the observed behaviour we can reproduce.
  4. Motivation – do we want to reproduce behaviour? Consequences (negative or positive) are taken into account. Is the reward resulting from the behaviour worth it being reproduced?


Triadic Reciprocal Causation Model

According to Bandura, Social Learning Theory explains human behaviour “in terms of a continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioural, and environmental determinants”… “this conception of human functioning then neither casts people into the role of powerless objects controlled by environmental forces, nor free agents who can become whatever they choose. Both people and their environments are reciprocal determinants of each other” (Bandura, 1977, pvii)


Bandura’s place within the 3 main models of behavioural learning

The 3 main models of behavioural learning compare as follows:and Bandura’s model in slightly more detail:

Bandura in practice

This looks like it’s a model for researching behaviour, and it is. I don’t have to tell you this is a model from psychology either, as it’s so well known within and outside psychology because of the bobo dolls that a lot of people have come across it in some way or another. This is also all about children copying and mdediating observed behaviour, which again at first sight doesn’t seem very interesting for career guidance practice.

There is a hint that points towards how we come to be where we are, however. In addition, in part it give us something to work with in another way too. If that’s how learning works, then that’s how career learning works and we can use that in practice. This can come in two forms:

  • We can model good career planning for the client. They observe this good career planning and will model it themselves. What this good career planning model looks like, Bandura leaves to certain extent unanswered, apart from the use of the mediational processes during the actual career planning.
  • A client can observe people in a profession and learn from that, what they would do, like and not like. They can mediate the behaviours in the workplace they see and draw conclusions for themselves.

There is a third way we can help clients using Bandura’s theory, however.

  • We can help clients find models and discuss options with them using open questions and raise their self-efficacy by pointing out their own positive traits, skills etc… This is particularly important for the age group I mainly work with, secondary school students and further education students as well as school leavers. We can also explore with them, and point them towards opportunities where they can access learning in whatever shape or form that may be.

So this is not a model for practice, like DOTS, but more of a psychological tool and perspective for career counselling and guidance, to assist clients in their positive career learning.



As you realise, this is not a ‘ready made’ career theory to be put in practice immediately and developed with career practice in mind. This is a learning theory and in that sense it can be used in practice, like other learning theories can. What conclusions can you draw for how you would use this theory?

Let’s see:

  • Would you find this a practical theory for you to use? Or would this require some thought and practice to intergrate in the work you do?
  • How does it compare to other learning theories? Compare it especially to Krumboltz’ theory of social learning and try and pick up the differences. Which strengths and weaknesses can you pick up from this?
  • Once more, also apply Brown’s criteria to this theory and see how it fares. What did you find?


Useful links



From the man himself:

(apologies for the American humour and annoying sound effects) but a good explanation to (re-) familiarise yourself with his basic theory.