My home on the interwebs

May 29, 2014

Digital Influences: Social Learning Theory

By: Michael Goetzman

Introduction

Social learning theory has been regarded as one of the key theories in psychology long after Albert Bandura’s early research. Although social learning theory has its foundation in what is considered traditional learning theory, Bandura elevated the concept of social learning by suggesting that direct reinforcement could not be responsible for all forms of learning. Bandura’s social learning theory added a component previously absent in traditional learning theory by suggesting the social element wherein individuals are capable of learning and have that learning reinforced through observing the behaviors of other individuals. Modeling, or observational learning, became one of the primary elements of social learning theory as posited by Bandura (1977a).

Social learning theory conveys its focus on the kind of learning that transpires via a social context (Ormrod, 1999). Imitation, modeling and observational learning are considered important ways in which social context learning takes place. Generally, social learning theory argues that individuals are capable of learning by modeling the behavior of others as well as the outcomes of the observed behaviors. Even in the absence of behavioral change, according to social learning theory, learning can still take place and imprints the individual with a modified norm. However, researchers who study social learning theory advise that learning can also occur through observation, but may or may not be reflected in the individuals’ performance. There may not be a behavioral change (Ormrod, 1999). Social learning theory further suggests there is a role of reasoning relevant to the learning process and that expectations and awareness of possible punishment or reinforcement may have an effect on an individual’s final decision.

                       “Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention

hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their

own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human

behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from

observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed,

and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for

action” (Bandura, 1977a, p191).

This research is based on Social learning theory, which derives from the work of Albert Bandura and the progression of social learning theory over new media such as the advent of the Internet.  The statement “The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe” has changed in a drastic way since the popularity of new technology with Internet based protocols and emerging information media. The amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past ten years and is doubling every 18 months according to the American Society of Training and Documentation (ASTD), (Gonzalez, 2004). Additionally, the mechanisms and tools by which individuals learn has drastically changed as well. With the advent of online learning and virtual classrooms, learning is now accessible via the internet and web based learning has become a supplemental as well as replacement tool for traditional classroom learning.

These new learning environments in combination with the plethora of resources made readily available through new technologies and internet advancements have created a new culture of learning (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011). Differing from the traditional sense of culture, the new learning environment seems to thrive on the fast paced changes that occur and is flexible enough to expand the boundaries of learning previously highly regarded in more traditional learning environments. The learning environment and with it the cultural context for learning has been significantly expanded and individuals no longer have to simply adapt to what has been learned but now have the ability to expand their learning terrain pushing the boundaries of the social learning environment (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011).

With that being said, one of the questions that arises is the level of influence digital media has on the learners and the level of influence derived or perceived by others as it relates to learning. One of the most effective ways learning influence can be determined is by looking at blogs. Weblogs, or blogs as they are now known, developed as an internet medium of communication in 1999 which allowed those who used the software developed by Pyra Labs to articulate their own thoughts in an online format and organize these thoughts into a webpage. This page was then indexed with others that were generally about the same content. Blogs are now considered one of the most radical means by which individuals are able to express themselves online (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011).

This research will academically examine the influence of learning within digital communities. In particular, the examination will explore decision making handled from blog posts which require the input of viewers. In digital communities, information is acquired at an alarming pace but this speed normally offers great benefits of knowledge by cutting time spent on evaluating the source. The business world, including management, will rely more on decision making from external sources and digital communities. The need to evaluate the worthiness of learning something while evaluating its credibility is becoming more challenging.  Following the introduction a review of scholarly literature demonstrates impacts of social learning theory, and the development and influence of digital media. The paper concludes with conclusion and recommendations for future studies.

Literature Review

Social learning theory originating from the work of Albert Bandura has been regarded as one of the most influential learning and development theories.  According to Bandura, all learning did not result from reinforcement, as previously theorized by the learning theory. Rather, Albert Bandura suggested that modeling or observational learning could significantly influence the learning curve for an individual and greatly affect his or her behavior. Bandura (Bandura, 1977b) asserted that observational learning could transpire in relation to

(1) Literal observation wherein an individual demonstrates the behavior that is desired.

(2) Oral instruction wherein an individual describes the desired behavior explicitly and instructs another to participate in the desired behavior.

(3) Symbolic representation wherein modeling or observation occurs via various media outlets such as the radio, television, internet, and so on.

In these particular models, a fictionalized character demonstrates or models the behavioral response that is desired (Bandura, 1977b). Social learning theory also stresses the importance of viewing the whole picture of research defined as a person’s behavior, for example by the environment or other variables, could be the actual cause of research results (Mae-Sincero, 2011); as such, the contributing dynamics to an individual’s behavior arises from not only what they observe but also his or her personal characteristics and the environment interdependently.

Bandura recognized within his argument that just because behavior is observed does not ensure the behavior is learned. As such, compelled (Bandura, 1977b) to create the following process

(1) Attention from the individual to the components of the behavior being modeled;

(2) Retention as memory would be critical to learning the modeled behavior and have the ability to reproduce the behavior at a later time;

(3) Reproduction as the person would need to organize his or her responsiveness as it relates to the desired behavior;

(4) Motivation as incentive is determined necessary for effective reproduction to occur (Mae-Sincero, 2011).

He further discusses the importance of basic reinforcement, which significantly influences behavior and learning. Such feelings could be a sense of satisfaction, pride, accomplishment, or perhaps even some forms of negative feelings to avoid.

Reinforcement

According to Bandura, there is a distinction between imitating what has been learned and observing what has been learned. Learning without performance gives a perspective on punishment and reinforcement factors. Although punishment and reinforcement are influential in an individual’s exposed behaviors, they do not necessarily cause behaviors. Cognition is influenced by the expectation of reinforcement and as such attention, influenced by reinforcement and expectation, is very important to the process of learning (Ormrod, 1999).

The environmental punishment and reinforcement model offers a number of ways in which individual’s behavior are reinforced for the behavior they model. An individual can reinforce the observer by acknowledging or praising the behavior of the modeler thereby reinforcing the behavior for those observing. The imitation of behavior itself acts as an environmental reinforcement because the consequences of imitation are most often favorable (Ormrod, 1999). A component of the environmental reinforcement and punishment model also includes Bandura’s notions regarding vicarious reinforcement. Vicarious reinforcement asserts that the reinforcement of the model for a particular response leads to an increased response in the same manner by the observer (Bandura, 1977b).

He further speculated the importance of intrinsic reinforcement that suggests influences outside of the individual, notably environmental reinforcement, significantly impacts behavior and learning. Intrinsic reinforcement within the contextual framework of social learning theory is a form of reward derived internally such as feeling a sense of satisfaction, pride and accomplishment. Internalized cognitions and thought processes aid in the connectivity between theories of cognitive development and behavioral theories.

Current perspectives on punishment and reinforcement assert that both factors indirectly effect learning but are not the primary or most significant facilitator of behavioral change. Although punishment and reinforcement are influential in an individuals’ exhibited learned behavior they do not necessarily cause the behavior. Cognition is influenced by the expectation of reinforcement and as such attention, influenced by reinforcement and expectation, is very important to the process of learning (Ormrod, 1999). There are both cognitive as well as behavioral factors that comprise contemporary social learning theory. According to Bandura (1977b), there is a distinction between imitating what has been learned and observing what has been learned; learning without performance.

As previously noted, there have been many academic theories regarding the process of learning. However, many scholars and researchers agree that the theories most applicable in the 1990’s are founded on many common assumptions as to how learning actually transpires (Jonassen & Land, 2000 pg 3-9). Many researchers now ascribe to the notion that knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge is not only based on an individual’s cognitive processes “but also in the discourse among individuals, the social relationships that bind them, the physical artifacts that they use and produce, and the theories, models and methods they use to produce them” (Jonassen & Land, 2000, pg3)   With the introduction of the internet and cyberspace as a new medium for communication, theories have evolved to include these new learning processes.

Because of the revolutionary perspective social networking mediums have provided theories such as the constructivist theory began to emerge in the late 1990’s (Hrastinski, 2009). This theory suggests there is not unconditional or definitive meaning of the world in which we live, but that as individuals’ we are constantly making efforts to understand it. Rather, the argument is founded on the notion that there are a number of ways that the world is structures and as such, many perspectives and meaning for concepts and events (Duffy & Jonassen, 1992). The theoretical shift, taken by many toward constructivist theory, shifts the concept of learning from “objectivist knowledge transmission towards active learner models” (Hrastinski, 2009, pg. 78). The difficulty, however, with constructivist theory has been its singular focus on individualized learning separate from the peer cohort (Edelson, Pea & Gomez, 1996).

Contemporary thought regarding the social aspects of learning has become the current focus of many researchers and theorists (Saljo, 2000; Vygotsky, 1978; Wenger, 1998). The focus of these posited theories is on conversation between individuals as a means of learning through dialogue and social negotiation (Jonassen & Land, 2000). No longer is learning required to be grounded in the experiential realm of the real world; rather, knowledge can be constructed and fundamentally understood via social activity (Hrastinski, 2009). With this understanding regarding the learning process, there has been somewhat of a return to social learning theory partnered with the constructivist theory as many scholars argue that the two complement each other as it relates to online learning and cyberspace social interactivity (Hrastinski, 2009). As such, many no longer feel a need to choose one theory over another but rather use the theories in tandem. “Sociocultural perspective informs theories of the conditions for the possibility of learning whereas theories developed from the constructivist perspective focus on what students learn and the processes by which they do so” (Cobb, 1994, pg 13).

Community

One of the more pronounced components of this new learning environment that rivals traditional classroom learning is the concept of community (Jaldemark, Lindberg, & Olofsson, 2006). Feeling connected and participating within a group is considered to be an essential component for there to be this sense of community. Those individuals that have a sense of attachment and connection to the group tend to participate at a much higher level. On the other end of the spectrum, those not vested in the group tend to participate at a much lower rate. According to Palloff and Pratt (2005) community and collaboration work hand in hand and are considered to be a vital part of creating the ideal learning process.

Many regard online learner participation as a complex process that involves high and low level conceptions with an emphasis on the social perspectives learning entails, acknowledging that learner participation is not something that “can be turned on and off” (Wenger, 1998 p.68). Some scholars argue that even when learners are not actively participating, for example with reading and writing exercises, there is still participation via perception of the learning environment; particularly as it relates to “…taking part and maintaining relations with others. It is a complex process comprising doing, communicating, thinking, feeling and belonging which occurs both online and offline” (Hrastinkski, 2008).

In defining the learning community, Rovai (2002) maintains that community has to have the following “mutual interdependence among members, sense of belonging, connectedness, spirit, trust, interactivity common expectations, shared values and goals and overlapping histories among members” (p.5). This definition of community is somewhat different than the one (Wenger, 1998) offers in the sense that in the Rovai’s definition there are no negative attributes associated with community. Wenger, on the other hand, makes a point of recognizing that community participation involves a variety of relations and relationships that may be “conflictual as well as harmonious, intimate as well as political, competitive as well as cooperative, (p.6).

Palloff and Pratt (2005) look at the concept of community and the learning environment as one that is recurring, inferring that the collaboration demonstrated between group members tends to support the development of the community and in turn the community supports the collaborative process. The learning community supports and learns from the members within it, as well as from the culture of the community and the environment in which it exists (Palloff & Pratt, 2005; Wilson, 1996).

Virtual

Virtual community participation, according to Vygotsky (1978) is supported via the use of tools, both psychological and physical. The physical tool in the virtual world is the computer that aids individuals in accomplishing certain tasks and goals. Vygotsky maintains that the psychological tools equals the language shared between users and is combined, most often, with the physical tools. Moreover, with both the physical and psychological tools in place, participation happens on the social and personal level (Hrastinski, 2009). The argument here, particularly as it relates to the virtual environment is that social learning can transpire even when there is no verbal communication via dialogue or conversation.

This idea represents somewhat of a departure from social learning theories in that, according to Vygotsky (1978) and Hrastinski (2009) participation is “not tantamount to talking or writing” (Hrastinski, 2009, p. 81). Talking and writing, according to Hrastinski is only a portion of participation in the virtual environment as reflective observation, abstract conceptualization are also a part of the process of participation. There should, then no longer be the assumption that “passive recipients” are not actively engaged in the participating or learning process because the effective measures of participation have been summarily redefined. (Romiszowski & Mason, 2004). Simple quantitative measures used to identify levels of participation tend not to include the more abstract and passive factors that are a significant part of virtual participation and communication and in Hrastinski’s estimation are insufficient as a determinant tool of measurement (Hrastinski, 2009).  “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it.” (Kolb, D. ,1984, pg. 41)

“Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory presents a cycle of four elements:

  1. Concrete Experience
  2. Reflective Observation
  3. Abstract Conceptualization
  4. Active Experimentation

(Kolb, D. ,1984)

Kolb also proposes that experiential learning has six main characteristics:

  1. Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes.
  2. Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience.
  3. Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world (learning is by its very nature full of tension).
  4. Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world.
  5. Learning involves transactions between the person and the environment.
  6. Learning is the process of creating knowledge that is the result of the transaction between social knowledge and personal knowledge.

(Kolb, D. ,1984)

Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) in their book, “A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change” argue that “a growing digital, networked infrastructure is amplifying our ability to access and use nearly unlimited resources and incredible instruments while connecting with one another at the same time” (p. 18).

The authors regard the new learning processes as a ‘cultural phenomenon’ that provides the foundational elements of the affects and experiences of a number of individuals in a variety of ways (p. 18). Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) do not posit that the new learning processes and methodologies make traditional classroom teaching obsolete; rather, they argue that this new form of learning actually supplements the traditional classroom education setting.

In an effort to understand and ‘harness’ these new learning processes in a sociocultural environment that continues to “ebb, flow, change and evolve” Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) suggest that there must be a change and shift in the way we contemplate and consider learning. Our “arc of learning” is then considered to be inclusive of activities of daily living that fosters the growth process (p. 18). As such, the framework required to understand learning in this new environment requires understanding that “the new culture of learning” contains a large network of information that offers virtually unlimited resources and access that are structured and bounded with the contextual framework of the environment where individuals are able to experience and experiment within the boundaries provided (p. 19).

In the new learning environment, Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) argue that motivation is revealed through a variety of platforms, with various intents and purposes and the freedom and ability to share generally personal experiences adds to the influx of knowledge the virtual community offers. The authors, then, see the new learning environment as a bridge between traditional learning communities and contemporary learning communities that is expansive and laden with information such as from search engines, databases and blogs and the more personal and structured such as community components like classrooms, family and colleagues (p. 31).

The fusion of the plethora of information readily available with personal experiences is what helps the new community to be meaningful as well as the platform where imagination could be cultivated thereby redefining the learning community.

Historically, the process of learning and education has been that of the transferring of information from an authoritative source, most often an instructor or teacher, to a student. This could also be a manager to a report. The power structure in the relationship of teacher/manager to student/report has always been very clear. Education was not necessarily a two way educational process, but rather linear from the instructor down to the learner. However, Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) maintain that this kind of thinking and educational structure is unable to contend with current and evolving learning environment. Thomas and Seely-Brown regard traditional learning through classrooms, textbooks, and even in the workplace as mechanistic wherein “learning is treated as a series of steps to be mastered, as if students were being taught how to operate a machine or even, in some cases, as if the students themselves were machines being programmed to accomplish tasks” (p. 35).

The end goal of a system that is built on mechanics is efficiency. In essence, master as much as possible in the fastest amount of time. In this view, the reasonable way to test and measure is through standardization and a test of the results; with little regard for the processes that are required to reach the end goal. Value is in the results (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011). The structure of the learning environment that Thomas and Seely-Brown argue for is one that incorporates the richness of available resources through digital medium, information and the teachers and students coexisting and shaping the environment mutually, with one reinforcing the other. Boundaries established within the environment offer constraint but further act as a catalyst for creativity and innovation (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011).

The authors concede that the environment they advocate has not traditionally been considered one in which standardization and testing has been the applicable measure. However, Thomas and Seely-Brown content that the set of pressures this kind of environment creates offers a substrate for the evolutionary process the learning community is in. Moreover, as the notion of the learning environment is reframed and re-conceptualized the augmentation rather than the replacement of more traditional methods and learning processes can occur (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 36).

“Unlike the traditional sense of culture, which strives for stability and adapts to changes in its environment only when forced, this emerging culture responds to its surroundings organically” (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011, p. 37). When one considers the learning environment from this contextual frame of reference, the authors argue that the most significant difference becomes that of the teaching based to the learning based approach of education wherein the culture provides and is the environment in the first and culture emerges and emanates from the environment in the latter. Digital media, then offers a powerful informational source with the environment considered integral to the end results. There is no longer the necessity for students in the teacher based approach to prove understanding and comprehension of the information that has been provided. Rather, in the new learning community it is considered okay to acknowledge what one does not know and understand and continue to inquire and accept exponential and incremental learning (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 38).

A Participatory Medium

Technology, in the aspect of a medium, keeps information from being static and is considered no longer a simple means of relaying information. Rather, Thomas and Seely-Brown assert that knowledge is participatory and is shaped by participation (p. 42). The greater the level of interaction within the informational process, the more the learning environment changes and is reshaped. Given this assertion, manipulation of data through the experimental process can also alter and reshape information. Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) maintain that the change within the learning environment is an incremental and adaptive process that transpires over a period of time.

Thomas and Seely-Brown challenge the general notions posited by social learning theory where memorization is recognized as a basic foundation element of education; however, the authors argue that the memorization of things does not necessitate the use of knowledge in the real environment of the learner (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 44). A recent study conducted by Giles (2005) compared Encyclopedia Britannica to Wikipedia as a means of comparing more traditional tools of learning to contemporary learning tools. The focus of the study was purportedly based on errors in facts, statements said to have been misleading as well as omission. Giles determined through the course of his study that Wikipedia was as accurate as the more traditional Encyclopedia Britannica. As such, it can be reasonably argued that Wikipedia is the new method which makes knowledge stable in a changing world in a game determined to be unwinnable.

When the changes noted above are embraced, then it becomes possible to see learning as a collaborative evolutionary process rather than one that is isolated. Learning can then be viewed as a social and cultural process of engagement (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 47). As such, traditional methodologies and approaches to learning are incapable of keeping up with the changes transpiring in the current environment. There is the need for balance between traditional educational structures and the free flowing unlimited information and resources provided in the virtual learning community. Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) maintain that the challenge continues to be a way in which freedom provided virtually can be balanced with structure offered traditionally (p. 49).

Scholars argue that in the new learning environment, individuals gain knowledge through participating and interacting with others in a relationship that is fluid where shared opportunities and interests are offered. Participants are equal abandoning traditional teacher student roles (Brown, Collins and Duguid, 1989). In the new learning environment, any person who has an understanding or knowledge regarding particular subject matter are able to share on a platform in the role of a mentor or merely as the voice of a knowledgeable individual. When passion in the sharing individual is recognized, there is a viral spread amongst the peer cohort and amplifies to various outlets what is being shared (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 51).

This form of learning is not revolutionary in and of itself, which is contrary to what has been believed or accepted by many traditional educational institutions (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009). The new learning environment is earmarked by what has been referred to as the collective – an interspersing of talents, skills and individuals that together produce a more significant result than any one of the elements individually could produce. Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) argue that the collective is different than the traditionally understood community in that traditional community has the ability to be passive; where one must learn to belong. The collective is considered an interactive community where individuals become a part of in order to learn (p. 52). Collectives are considered to be ‘content neutral’ opportunities for engagement and facilitate peer to peer interaction and learning (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 53).

The collective, as suggested by Thomas and Seely-Brown is absent a center and individuals are able to move freely within and into the group process, where no ‘standard’ concept of an individuals’ level of participation is defined or required to be defined. For example, the blog begins with the original author or authors and readers are able to interact at will by leaving comments, posting opinions or replying to inquiry and combines the passive and active as some who may read the blog may not choose to participate in the commentary.

New Media: Blogs

The blog developed as a concept in 1999 that facilitated the use of journaling online, organized in such a way that the information could be indexed via the web page. Although originally referred to as weblogs, the terminology was later condensed to blogs (Herring, 2004).  This was considered a revolutionary concept, outside of what had been traditionally considered a public forum of expression where more of an individual’s personal expression was made evident. “This was the first time that Internet users could create a space on the web without some knowledge of HTML coding” (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 63).

Blog success has been determined to be contingent upon two primary factors; both outside of the control of the author(s). Those components are external linkage and comments left by readers. Blogs that are active are linked by other bloggers whose attention has been garnered by the level of activity, and the level of use by readers and commentary left facilitates increased commentary by current and new users (Herring, 2004). At the foundational level, “blogs serve as a means to kick start a collective around conversations about ideas that spring from the personal” (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 65).

Atlantic Senior Editor, Andrew Sullivan started a blog “The Daily Dish” in 2000. His work has been considered transformative in the collective and personal sharing arena in the new learning environment. In November 2008, Sullivan wrote,

The blogger can get away with less and afford fewer

pretensions of authority. He is – more than any writer of

the past – a node among other nodes, connected but unfinished

without the links and the comments and the track-backs that

make the blogosphere, at its best, a conversation, rather than

a production” (Sullivan, 2008).

Blogging Credibility

In his address at a Harvard conference on Blogging, Journalism and Credibility, Alex Jones, Director of the Shorenstein Center, pointed that “Credibility is something that’s relatively fragile. It is something that mainstream journalism has lost an awful lot of in the last decades, something that mainstream journalism, traditional journalism is trying to get back.” and “Bloggers, on the other hand, are in the early stages of figuring out how to win and lose credibility with their audiences”  (MacKinnon, 2005, p. 11). Now that viewers are going directly to online resources, those in the mass media are following suit. These days blogs are the watchdogs and critics of the mass media, and journalists have taken due notice (Sweetser, Porter, Chung, & Kim, 2008). Many professional journalists have begun to use blogs as sources for stories. Blogs are increasingly cited as a source of information for the public (MacKinnon, 2005, p. 7). But rumor and inside information alongside flagrant errors fill the Blogosphere today. This gives rise to the question: How can social online communities (blogs) influence the behavior of readers and professional journalist outlets, regardless of the authenticity of the content?

BIGresearch (2007) recently found that people consider bloggers (5.8%) are more reliable than the media (4.4%). It appears that professional journalists are using blogs as an extension of their regular work. While there is no go-ahead for using blogs professionally, it is believed that blogs will have a strong impact on mass media and especially journalism. This has made it imperative to establish the credibility and authenticity of the information contained in the blogosphere. Obviously amongst the millions of blogs posted on the net all cannot be genuine. There are many blogs that misinform the readers on purpose. Some are sponsored by interested parties to forward their personal agendas and are thus biased; others are deliberate misinformation campaigns to reduce credibility of rivals; yet others are posted to form false public impressions on current affairs. For example in China the 50-Cent Party is a group of 280,000 Chinese bloggers who get 50 cents for each comment they post online; their job is to identify susceptible online debates and try to commandeer the conversation in a direction favorable to the Chinese government (Morozov, 2009).

However all blogs are not spun or erroneous; in the case of Wikipedia, companies and individuals have not been able to notably spin their information pages to their liking. Wikipedia’s restrictions make this impossible. Similarly there are other blogs that contain authentic information that can be traced back to reliable sources (credible websites, governmental data, reports etc.) It is relatively easy to separate the “wheat from the chaff.”   Authentic blogs typically have names and contact information of the author/organization plus hyperlinks/references to their information sources. These blogs include blog rolls established blogs and not just linking in a restricted/cultish manner, linking only to friends or to blogs on same host and only to blogs with identical political beliefs, etc. In order to understand the motives and reasoning behind the enormous web of lies spun by some people we must first examine the collective behavior of people, how they process and authenticate the information made available by the mass media.

Conclusion

Social learning theory has been established as one of the most prominent theories in psychology and Albert Bandura has raised the collective bar on what genuinely constitutes learning via direct reinforcement, modeling and observational learning. The focus of social learning theory is learning that transpires within a social context and suggesting the significance of learning through the modeling and imitation of others. Bandura maintained that the environmental influences, those that exist outside of the individual, significantly impact not just behavior but learning as well as intrinsic reinforcement.  Moreover, intrinsic reinforcement offers a kind of reward that is derived internally, offering a sense of price, accomplishment and satisfaction. With the advent of the Internet as a new social media, social learning theory and the tenets posited by the theory have been taken to a decidedly higher level.

Statistical experiments could examine the relationship between two categorical variables, Test A and Test B. Quantitative statistical measurements establish a non-existence relationship between these two variables. The null hypothesis would show observed patterns. There have been several theories posited regarding social learning with many ascribing to the idea that knowledge acquisition is not only based on an individual’s cognitive processes but is also fostered between individuals within social relationships that in essence, bind them together. The proposed sample experiment could either show or not show that users believe they are getting this cognitive social relationship. Generally, these social relationships are bolstered by the accessibility and the lack of geographical limitations offered by the Internet.

Learning is no longer required to take place in traditional settings or even grounded in the ‘real world’ as the world has become expansive for those who utilize the World Wide Web. This new learning environment offers a sense of connectivity to those who participate at an even greater level than what may have been experienced in more traditional settings. The new learning environment offers a level of collaboration with common expectations, shared goals and values and mutual interdependence. Learning takes place between members within the community and is supported by this new environment, both physically and psychologically. This growing digital community thus amplifies accessibility to virtually unlimited tools and resources while simultaneously connection individuals one to another (Thomas & Seely, 2011).

Within the context of Management and the ever-changing business environment this new learning environment, scholars maintain that individuals are able to gain information and knowledge through interacting and participating with others in a fluid and shared relationship where mutual interests are offered. Anyone within this new learning environment that has sufficient knowledge on a particular subject matter has the ability to be considered an expert and can then use the internet media platform as a means for mentorship; fostering a viral spread amongst peer cohorts that is then amplified because of the numerous outlets the internet offers.

Thomas and Seely (2011) regard this new form of learning as the collective; where individuals are able to move freely within the learning environment, absent a center, and no specific requirements for standardization of participation. This in the author’s opinion is the definition of management to get a team to participate along with fostering information among each other to collectively complete a task. The blog has been referred to as an exceptional example of the collective learning environment for experimentation of this theory as readers are able to interact with the author (manager) or authors (managers) via replies, comments, posting opinions, or being a passive observer with no requirement for interaction.

According to the American Society of Training and Documentation, knowledge is increasing at a remarkable rate based upon increased availability with internet based learning. A new culture of learning has been created that seems to thrive on the accelerated pace and the flexibility the internet offers. The question of the level of influence is one that has been raised, particularly as it relates to the advancements and availability of information via the internet, and whether this influence is derived or perceived. Because blogs are considered to be one of the most radical means for individuals to express themselves online and potentially influence the decisions of others, the nature of decision making via blog posts has been undertaken. Within digital communities learning takes place via modeling and direct reinforcement and is supported by the expeditious nature in which information, reinforcement, decision making can transpire; and because of the heightened pace, the time it takes to critically evaluate the source of that information is significantly diminished.

According to experts, the success of a blog is contingent upon factors that exist outside of the control of the author. Active blogs that are linked to others and the level of use by the readers determine whether a blog will be successful. One of the issues that has arisen as a result of blogging as a news or journalistic medium is whether or not blogs can be considered valid. There are many arguments on both sides. Many argue that because a blog is an individual’s own opinion, much like an online diary, than validity is a non-issue because the information is derived based on personal opinion. Others argue that when blogging moves into the realm of reporting the news or acting in a more ‘journalistic’ capacity, then the information offered should be valid. However, according to Sullivan (2008), bloggers are not required to have as many pretenses of authorities as journalists do.

Validity and credibility continue to be an issue hotly debated in the scholarly community. MacKinnon (2005) asserts that because viewers en mass are moving toward online resources such as blogging, mass media is following closely behind. Blogs are now seen as the watchdogs  as well as the critics of mass media and this watchdog mentality has not gone unnoticed by traditional journalists. As a matter of record, there are many mainstream journalists who have taken to blogging as a primary source for the stories they write. Whether or not blogs are laden with fact or fiction has given rise to the question of whether or not online social communities such as blogs have the ability to influence readership behavior despite authenticity or validity of the content.

And to this end, the public has spoken. Many regard blogs as more creditable and reliable than traditional media. There are blogs that offer genuine information that can be tracked back to original sources through backlinks and hyperlinks. Journalists are taking license with blogs as an extension of their work and blogs continue to have a strong impact on mass media. There are millions of blogs on the internet and not all of them can be considered credible or authentic because there is no mechanism in place to do so. Many blogs are based on opinion, or are sponsored by interest groups and certain parties that determine the agenda for the reader and the author. Information can be presented in a biased way with deliberate misinformation offered if it supports the agenda posited by the blog. One of the primary issues, as evidenced by this study, is that not all blogs are genuine and authors have the ability to remove or obscure information that may be deemed unfavorable that the readers may never be privy to. In that way, the blog can be considered less than authentic and less than credible.

In view of lowered standards for news and information it is important that caution should be exercised while assimilating news from the net and other mass media. Establishing credibility and authenticity of information is of great importance. The net is transforming the way news is reported and understood. The rise of the net has eternally changed the way readers interact with the news; stories are uploaded the instant they break and the audience usually expect to be able to access numerous perspectives. There is an urgent need to regulate this medium to raise the journalistic standards to an acceptable level. Audiences are conditioned to accept journalism as factual and authentic reporting in comparison to fiction or comedy which is universally accepted as fantasy. Although audiences do question the agenda or biases behind journalism, it is implicit that the facts included within a journalistic article are genuine and verified even if they represent a small part of a bigger story. Thus journalistic stories such as the one posted by Lyndon are usually taken at face value. The surprise however comes not from the audiences’ acceptance but the formal media’s inclusion of it without verification of facts.

On the other hand not everybody agrees that the implications of ‘loose’ reporting on the internet are wholly negative. Davis & Owen (1998) make the old media argument that the rise of tabloid journalism may not be completely harmful because it “can foster a sense of intimacy with the public,” and also draw audiences to news sources. But how can this logic be applied to the websites such as Matt Drudge’s that encourage rumor while ignoring the high standards of journalistic verification? Apparently, the lowering of standards will encourage audiences to seek out more news. This attitude is totally illogical as although support of rumor-mongering may have short term benefits it causes great harm in the long term.

The impact of mass media is far reaching and complex. And more often than not, the mass moves blindly in the decision making process because of the collectivity that is associated with many online media platforms such as blogs. The ease of use the internet offers as well as visual stimulation has created a mass audience that has created collective behavior referred to as sociological masses. Within blogs, fact or fiction are promoted equally, without fear of repercussions or reprisal, particularly in countries that value freedom of speech. Regular users of the internet are inclined to believe what they read but the formal media taking all weblogs at face value is unacceptable. Seib (2001) writes “The ‘Drudge effect’ – shoot-from-the-hip sensationalism – will give online journalism a bad name if the public perceives it to be a dominant characteristic of this medium,” (p. 5).  It is incumbent on professionals to verify their sources if they are to maintain the reputation for responsible journalism. There is another paradox of collective behavior.  The ethical governance of the global Internet is an is the demand of the day; yet the key paradox this medium is that it allows individual and collective decision making to co-exist with each other. Until that day the individual will have to fend for himself. Davis and Owen (1998) maintain, “Anyone can put anything on the internet” and many do. Decision making by the readership is frequently determined by what is there and by what is not there due to deletion by the author. There is no insurance of reliability, accuracy or credibility of the information. The further from the source the information is passed, the less reliable it may become.

As a researcher fascinated by the affects the Internet has on human learning I was struck by the results of the learning decisions made by users from unverified sources that ended poorly. In careful and cautious statistical summaries this demonstrates reasonable proof of social learning theory in digital communities by the lack of questioning. For example a blog administrator could change the observations of their viewers in a drastic way using many other variable methods, but the observer ultimately decides their own fate regarding actions. In the proposed research future I would experiment with a larger sample pool along with a more cross-functional case of learning theory such as altering environmental influences, real world application, and preparation stimuli.  I’ve learned that the observational results of this research demonstrates one must foster their own understanding of what they read and not rely on the masses of participation without proper peer evaluation. The most important thing humans should learn from this research is the proper questioning and evaluation of any instructions found from online sources. The ever-growing use of internet sources to resolve problems in the work environment may pose a major threat to organizations. One simply has to post directions that would lead to exposing sensitive information at any level of the organization, aka social engineering.

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