Social Learning and Collective Action

People learn new things and behaviours as part of a social process. We explicitly design collaborative processes that encourage people to confront and de-construct their ways of understanding so as to open up the space for new, collective and transformative understandings. This means thinking beyond one’s own realities and context into broader contexts – an approach that seeks to develop an identity with “the place we live in”.

Social Learning, formulated by Albert Bandura, is one of the most influential learning theories. It can be useful to explain how people learn new things and develop new behaviours as part of a social process (where peers are important) rather than simply by conditioning or reinforcement (part of the view proposed by Skinner). Bandura noted that the state of mind and ‘internal’ reward (a positive experience) are crucial for learning. He also highlighted that not all learning results in a change in behaviour. Additional work such as that of Arjen Wals suggests important ‘stages’ in the process of learning where one critically analyses one’s own beliefs, norms and values (deconstruction), confronts those of others, and makes new meanings (reconstruction).

This has significantly influenced AWARD’s way of working so that we are attentive to processes that foster a ‘safe’ learning space where people participate with each other to make new ideas or meanings. Issues of sustainability and practices for sustainable futures often require that people engage in ‘meaning-making’ collectively. Most complex problem-solving issues, such as those around natural resources management, require action beyond the individual, making collective action a central component.