Spotlight on Bandura’s social learning theory

Apprentice and mechanic looking under a car's bonnet

Understand Bandura’s social learning theory and help your clients find positive role models and gain confidence.

People learn by observing others

The third career theory we’ll shine our spotlight on is Bandura’s social learning theory. Albert Bandura proposed that people learn new knowledge and skills by observation and watching other people (role modelling). 

Observational learning can also include:

  • listening to a podcast 
  • reading 
  • hearing or watching the actions of characters in books, films or websites. 

The four requirements needed for Bandura’s observational learning are:

  1. Paying attention: You’re interested enough in the model to focus attention. 
  2. Retention: You’re able to store and remember information. 
  3. Reproduction: You practice the observed behaviour to improve and grow your skills. 
  4. Motivation: You copy the behaviour because you’ve been rewarded by your own sense of achievement, or you’ve watched someone else being rewarded.

Use Bandura’s theory to help clients increase their confidence

Bandura also recognised that self-efficacy, our belief in our own abilities, plays a major role in how we learn and whether we achieve our goals.

Career development consultant Bridget Clarke says a lack of confidence is a common issue for many clients. She says as a practitioner it’s important to act as the inspirer.

 I often acknowledge all the positive traits I’ve seen in the client since I’ve worked with them. You can see them light up - you may be the first person who has been on their side for a very long time.

Low self-efficacy leads to an inability to grow and expand our skills. You can help your clients develop their self-efficacy and increase their motivation by: 

  • understanding their situation by asking open-ended questions
  • finding role models in their family/whānau they identify with who can support their dreams and goals
  • identifying mentors who will provide a positive experience, for example, through job shadowing and work experience 
  • looking for ways to increase their learning through different media such as podcasts 
  • directing them to experiences where they believe they’ll succeed
  • showing them how to replace negativity with positive self-talk, for example, using techniques such as reframing (a different way of looking at a situation) 
  • helping them set achievable goals.

Find out more


  • Cherry, K, ‘How Social Learning Theory Works’, 25 July 2019, (
  • Cherry, K, ‘Self Efficacy and Why Believing in Yourself Matters’, 5 July 2019, (
  • Pennsylvania Department of Education, ‘Overview of Career Development Theories – Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory’, (



Updated 13 Nov 2019