Special Libraries, Virtual Instruction, and Social Learning Theory

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

January 26, 2021

I believe in the importance of social interaction in the learning process. Social interaction allows for modeling and the development of shared culture and understanding. 

Many education researchers also believe in the importance of social interaction for learning. 

Social learning theory was developed by Albert Bandura (1977) and “emphasizes the importance of observing, modelling, and imitating the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others. Social learning theory considers how both environmental and cognitive factors interact to influence human learning and behavior” (McLeod, 2016, para. 1).     

When in-person, observing, modelling, and imitating are natural by-products of human interaction. We observe someone and we imitate their actions. In training settings, this often is what occurs when instructors show others how to use a computer program (e.g. database) and the learners then use the program themselves. For many of us in library work, the show and do method of instruction is central to our instructional methods. 

In a virtual setting, this method of show and do is more challenging. The trainees may not be able to get as clear of a sense of how the instructor navigated the program. The instructor cannot as easily see what the trainees are doing and correct as necessary. Despite the challenges, it is important to add social aspects to virtual instruction where possible because of interaction’s importance for learning. 

Here are some tips for how to add social elements to your virtual instruction. 

  • Use video and audio so trainees can see people interacting and using products.
  • Use synchronous training when possible. This is where the trainer and trainees are in the same virtual space at the same time. The trainer can use video and audio to share information and the group can engage in discussion. 
  • Incorporate virtual reality as a way for trainees to observe new surroundings.
  • Incorporate stories into your instruction. The stories can be heard or read, but should be revealing enough that learners get a sense of the behaviors, attitudes, and emotions involved. 
  • Find ways to make learners feel they are part of the team. This can be done by using names when writing feedback, by having virtual group discussions, or through team assignments. 
  • Add coaching to virtual instruction. This can be a time when a mentor meets with a new trainee, or when the instructor provides individual feedback on learners’ work. 

As virtual instruction continues to be the norm, we all need to find ways to add social elements. While your specific instruction may require different social interaction than what I have suggested, I hope the ideas shared give you a place to start developing your own social learning in virtual instruction. 

Suggested resource

Schultz, J. (2020). The case for social learning: Lessons from successful online business. eLearning Industry. https://elearningindustry.com/social-learning-theory-lessons-from-successful-online-businesses


Bandura, A., & Walters, R. H. (1977). Social learning theory(Vol. 1). Prentice-hall.

McLeod, S. (2016). Albert Bandura – Social learning theory. Simply Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/bandura.html

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri. Please read her other posts about skills for special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterpriseand GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all sizes and budgets.

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