Critique Of Cognitive And Social Learning Theories

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Learning theories encapsulate the process of learning and retaining information. This process affects every aspect of daily life and can be applied to individuals, groups and communities in order to teach and solve problems. Factors that may affect learning include intellectual ability, learning components, physical development and nutrition, mental factors, and emotional and social dynamics (Mondal, 2019). The learner may be a patient or family member, but in this paper the learner will be a student of nursing. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which is a lifesaving skill and essential requirement for any nurse, will be the topic. The theories to be discussed and applied to this topic are the social learning theory (SLT), which takes place in a social setting through immediate observation or tutoring, and the cognitive learning theory (CLT), which involves active problem solving and purposeful thought.

According to Knud Illeris, all learning covers two synchronized processes: 1) an interaction process between learner and environment which provides an image or impression, and 2) an “acquisition process” where these thoughts are “assessed, elaborated and taken in” (Illeris, 2018, p. 96). Consequently, learning consists of three elements: the content dimension, which is usually cognitive; the incentive dimension which is mostly emotional and consists of one’s participation, awareness and motivation; and finally, the interaction dimension, the social aspect, potentially consisting of “many layers,” ranging from the immediate situation, and aspects rooted in local, environmental, national or a global setting (Illeris, 2018, p. 96). Factors that may positively or negatively influence learning include enthusiasm for learning, organization, self-confidence, level of communication, skill and knowledge, teacher and student temperament, as well as others.

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The social learning theory is largely supported by the work of Albert Bandura. Bandura believed that learning occurred through observation of a “model” and afterwards impersonating what was observed. The following are the basic principles relevant to this learning style: 1) attention, 2) retention, 3) motor reproduction and 4) reproduction.

Memory formation by way of the SLT is formed through a process of identifying an object or action, paying attention to significant characteristics, retaining the observed information, imitating the model’s actions and then reproducing the perceived actions if positive reinforcement is provided. Retaining information is substantially influenced by teacher support, personal participation, task completion and academic aspirations and feelings of self-worth (Ginns, Martin, & Papworth, 2014). According to Weinstein (1988), when the subject can connect new information with prior knowledge, seeking real world relevance, and supporting a more personal, meaningful understanding of subjects, memory became more significantly retained (Ginns, Martin, & Papworth, 2014).

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation has several critical steps involved. For each step the student would be expected to complete the four steps associated with the social learning theory, attention, retention, motor reproduction and reproduction. For sake of demonstration, each student would be supplied with a mannequin for practice purposes. While several steps are necessary between identification and beginning of CPR, this paper will focus on the specific actions of CPR administration: chest compressions and ventilations.

Initially, the student would need to identify an individual in need of help. They would check for breathing activate EMS by calling 911. Next the student would be shown the proper compression rate and depth by the instructor, while giving thirty compressions. Students would observe, then identify proper hand placement and depth, and imitate chest compressions using their individual mannequin. If chest compressions were not adequate in depth or rate, the instructor would correct the student by illustration and oversee proper compressions.

Once, the students illustrated understanding of chest compressions, the next step of opening the airway would follow. The instructor would indicate proper head and neck position, and then give two breaths. At this point, students would add airway to their rotation by memory retention and continue through the cycle of thirty chest compressions with two breaths in between for several minutes. Reproduction of compressions and ventilations would continue until the students voiced confidence with their role and performance. To solidify to memory, the students would start from the beginning without prompt, and carry out all basic CPR steps indicating in the end their satisfaction with knowledge and performance.

On the other hand, the cognitive learning theory focuses on “how knowledge is acquired, constructed, and represented in the mind and subsequently remembered” (Kay & Kibble, 2016, p. 17). Learning occurs through carefully sequenced, arranged and delivered material that provides the student understanding and meaning. One particular focus of cognitive science has been the mental processing and storage of information.

A standard information processing format divides memory into three parts: sensory register, short term memory and long-term memory (Kay & Kibble, 2016). According to Kay and Kibble, learners take in stimuli through their senses. This information is then coded and held, and subsequently lost if not rapidly acted upon. If the learner finds value in this material, the information will then be transferred to the short-term memory, which is the second memory component. Data in the short-term memory is quickly lost if not utilized. If appropriate mental resources and tools are used to secure information, this data will be transferred to the third memory component, the long-term memory. However, with time if information is not regularly retrieved, the ability to access material will deteriorate and diminish over time (2016). Learning techniques of chunking, repetition and rehearsal can increase the duration of information storage in the short-term memory.

The CLT can be applied to learning CPR through the use of a pretest followed by a demonstration of CPR using elaboration and rehearsal and concluding with a post test. Introducing a pretest prompts to memory as well as fortifies any prior knowledge that the student may have. From this point, a physical demonstration by the instructor using an organized approach explains each concept in detail. The following concepts and steps would be individually introduced with time given to elaborate and answer student questions. Instruction would begin with identifying a person needing help, assessing for respirations and calling for an AED. The concepts of checking carotid pulses and beginning chest compressions (30 each cycle) if pulseless, followed by implementation of two breaths after compressions would then be introduced. Finally, direction on using a 30:2 ratio of compressions and ventilation with a pulse check after every five cycles or two minutes would be demonstrated. Important factors of rotating CPR providers and proper AED usage would also be included in training.

By elaborating and rehearsing these concepts individually, the student can mentally review the steps, building onto their memory bank. This bank of data representing all concepts is termed schemata which is a deeply connected network in the long-term memory (Kay & Kibble, 2016). By continued use of elaboration and rehearsal, the student’s ability to recall assessment sequence and action needed to successful administer CPR increases and becomes more ingrained into long term memory. To cap off the learning session, a post test would be administered to assess the success of material captured to memory by each student.

When comparing the elements of the SLT versus the CLT, several factors pose similarities. First both theories tend to lean on the environment as playing a significant role in behavior. Individuals get information from the environment; thus, all information is associated with a social setting. According to Young, “there is no learning (and no knowledge) that does not in some sense involve social relations” (2015). Furthermore, learning involves others, directly and/or indirectly, even when we are alone during our initial experience as learners (Young, 2015).

Recent neuroscience research has shown how significantly social interactions are ingrained in brains of both human and nonhumans. Young argues that learning is “epistemic” or “knowledge building” and “inescapably social” (Young, 2015, p. 17). According to Kendal, et al., increasing evidence, which is organizationally diverse, indicates that the “anterior cingulate cortex lying in the gyrus (ACCg) is specialized for the processing of social information in humans and nonhumans” (2018). The SLT depicts behavior and learning being shaped and molded in a social setting through correction, motivation and positive or negative reinforcement. Behavior is learned in the CLT through observing the actions of others in some form of social environment.

Another similarity to both theories is they each build upon steps or stages. The SLT builds on steps of attention, retention, motor reproduction and reproduction. The CLT builds on elements of processes, sequences and arrangements. Steps under each theory allow information or concepts to be built up, strengthening memory retention and converting memory to short term and further into long term memory.

In contrast, the main difference between these two theories is the action focus, where the SLT focuses on learning through interaction, the CLT emphasizes an observational or passive stance to learning. While the CLT may be applied to learn the actions of cardiopulmonary resuscitation using a “hands off approach,” it is not nearly as effective for mastery as learning through knowledge translation and implementation which comes from the SLT, especially when seconds matter to save a life. Although “practice” doesn’t always guarantee perfection, clearly there is a greater likelihood of attaining proficiency through the action of imitation rather than mnemonics, pictures, rehearsal or any other observable approach. Although CLT may be effective at bringing to memory the steps needed, what it doesn’t provide is hands on practice, commitment to memory from performing this task, and the confidence associated with participating in a simulated real-life event.

The best types of teaching strategies or instruction to most effectively facilitate learning under the SLT include, peers teaching peers, group work and simulation activities (Lee, 2016).

On the other hand, the best teaching strategies for effective learning in the CLT mode include: small group sessions, direct observation of skill “in action” and feedback from learners, elaboration, pretests or posttests, student teaching assignments, chunking, imagery, mnemonics, rehearsal and concept mapping (Young, 2015) (McSparron, Vanka, & Smith, 2018).

According to the American Heart Association Journal, “Educators should deliver resuscitation education experiences that allow learners to practice key skills, receive directed feedback, and improve until they attain mastery” (Cheng, et al., 2018). Mastery learning is linked to “deliberate” continuous practice in order to achieve identified learning objectives (Cheng, et al., 2018). Features of a simulation-based education bring maximum educational benefits (Cheng, et al., 2018). From this perspective, I have learned that “hands on” skills require “hands on” training to attain maximum understanding and mastery. Educators shouldn’t settle for less.


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