Social Learning and the Environment


social learning

A question was asked last week that really intrigued me. It was asking if there is “room for mental representation in the area of social cognition” (Mill, 2016). My response is a resounding yes. For starters, mental representations can be thought of as the expectations a person develops, through their interaction with the environment, of the world and the things in it, and includes the processes by which inferences are drawn about the world. Social Cognition is the way individuals learn by observing other individuals and by the individual’s capacity for empathy, which gives rise to a cognition (the mental representation and processing of the world) based in social interactions. Our ability to feel empathy and to have cathartic experiences is made possible by the fact that the neural networks responsible for biological survival and the neural networks responsible for sociality are the same (TEDxManhattanBeach, 2011), which means we are able to physically feel what another person must feel in certain situations just from hearing a story about them. Think about that…we actually have a physical reaction to just hearing another person’s tale. This means that each person must have similar mental representations and mental processes in order for them to both feel the same emotion, or to be inspired by another’s tale of overcoming adversity, or to cry at another’s loss. Because we are such social creatures, it only makes sense that this be harnessed in the classroom. Because we are able to feel motivation from others, because we learn through observation, and because we share mental processes and representations, teachers should make more of an effort to involve each member of the class as an active participant in their education and to require group work to solidify and demonstrate their understanding.

Social Learning Theory and Vicarious Learning provides an easily understandable explanation of Social Cognitive Theory and how it is applied in the process of changing behavior.


The theory of Social Cognition can be extended to the theory of Dynamic Systems. A dynamic system is a system in which two or more things interact with each other and over time, this interaction leads to change in one, or both, of them. This means that social interaction is a dynamic system in which people affect change in one another. A person learns about the world and how to survive in it by not only interacting with it but observing members of their group, which means that this could be extended to the classroom in profound ways. Individually, cognition is situated in the environment and how a person interacts with the environment affects their neural and cognitive processes over time (Port, 2002). So, if we are shaped by the environment we are exposed to, then we must have the capacity to shape ourselves over time. dynamic system
Dynamic System Theory is similar to the theory of the process of evolution and adaptation, and how the environment shapes the species that exist in it. People evolve over time and are shaped into who they are by the environment they were exposed to. I am an online child and can be very selfish. This is a trait that is expressed without conscious effort, it is tacit. It is a product of my childhood, but I am not powerless to change that about myself. The dynamic system is the classroom is similar to the process of trying not to be selfish, it requires a teacher to help students change their default mental state when it concerns education. A teacher needs to help students not automatically default to the attitude that school is boring. Teachers must consider that students will grow more when exposed to a dynamic environment than an environment of passive learning. A student must be allowed to interact with the material on their own and then they must be asked to work with others in a process of applying the information learned. Within this process, students will learn from one another and discuss the ways in which they understood the information.

Examples of Microevolution provides an example of sparrows evolving new traits to cope with the environment of North America, a place that is not their native home. This is a great example of how the environment (dynamic system) shapes the things that exist within it.


Nothing is learned in isolation and genuine learning is done when lessons are applied in a way that is relatable to real-life. Learn from the Team is a concept in Perkins’ Whole Game approach to learning which advocates for just that, the application of learning in real-life scenarios that are relatable to a learner’s life and experiences (Perkins, 2009). His idea is that people learn more, and more effectively, when they are given the chance to use what they are learning and use it with other people. I use the Learn from the Team concept when teaching beginners how to do Thai boxing. I always start them out with the basics and then have them apply what they have learned to hitting pads. I, then, move them to controlled sparring in which they work with a partner to practice techniques learned in class. The sparring, which mimics real-world application, increases in difficulty over time and allows students to learn through the observation of their peers’ sparring sessions. It is a system that has worked well through the years, but I now have an explanation for why it works and a name to attach to the concept. The reason his concept works so well is because it combines our innately social tendencies with actual use of what is being learned. We are creatures that learn through observation and mimicry, so it is only logical that a teaching method that incorporates social learning with the dynamic system of real-world scenarios is highly effective at producing lasting and genuine learning.

This video provides a nice overview of project-based learning in action.


Berkeley. (n.d.). Examples of Microevolution. Retrieved from

Edutopia. (2014, June 26). Five Keys to Rigorous Project-Based Learning. Retrieved from .

Mills, M. (2016). Unit 6 presentation transcript. Retrieved from

Perkins, D. N., & ebrary, I. (2009). Making Learning Whole : How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.

Port, R.F. (2002). The Dynamical Systems Hypothesis in Cognitive Science. Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science, 1(p 1027-1032). (n.d). Albert Bandura: Social-Cognitive Theory and Vicarious Learning. Retrieved from

TEDxManhattanBeach. (2011, November 7). Mary Helen Immordino-Yang – Embodied Brains, Social Minds. Retrieved from


Learning to Learn

Keep learning

Going through the materials for units 4 and 5, especially the topic of meta-cognition, I realized that the entire time I was in school I was never taught how to learn. There is an expectation that kids will go to school for over a decade and learn the things that will be necessary for a successful future, but there is never any attention paid to teaching kids how to learn all of the things they will be required to learn. Primary and secondary school are meant to prepare kids for their future and for being productive members of society, but the expectation is that the kids already know how to learn. It is vital to a child’s success in school and in life that they know how to learn, which is why I think that Paul Andersen’s video, Metacognition: learning about learning, is so valuable. He goes over ten ways to learn how to learn and provides some excellent information that all teachers should have and implement in the classroom (BozemanScience, 2009). All of his strategies would be applicable to the language learning classroom, but there are a few that stood out – engage by paying attention (fake it if you have to) and have fun.

Samuel Johnson said, “the true art of memory is the art of attention” (tedtalks, 2011). Understanding that attention and memory are related does not require science, rather it only requires observation. It is nearly impossible to learn anything without the active process of paying attention, which is why learning to pay attention should be incorporated into the educational environment. Paying attention is becoming more and more difficult in today’s world of smart-phones and instant access to entertainment and distraction. Working memory has been directly affected by this constant distraction, in fact, we were once capable of holding seven things in our working memory, but that has dwindled to four for a span of 10-20 seconds (Tedtalksdirector, 2013). To help students learn to pay more attention and to block out distractions, mindfulness mediation should be taught. In a study on mindfulness meditation and attention, it was found that those who performed mindfulness mediation were much better at maintaining attention than those that did not meditate (Semple, 2010). Clearly, teaching students to meditate and having them make time each day to do it will directly benefit their ability to concentrate and to regulate their emotional states, which will, in turn, help them to become better learners.

(Resource for strategies to increase student motivation:

We learn more when we are relaxed and enjoying what we are learning. In short, we learn more when we are having fun. If learning feels like work, it makes learning hard. When learning is fun, students develop intrinsic motivation to learn, which is the kind of motivation that does not require external rewards, rather it comes from within. In fact, it was found that intrinsically motivated students performed better and were more engaged than their counterparts (Cerasoli, Nicklin, & Ford, 2014). In the language learning classroom, students need to understand why they are learning a second language so they can focus on their goals, they need to be able to connect the learning to the real-world, and they need to find the learning process stimulating. Without intrinsic motivation, a student will find it very difficult to overcome the hard parts of learning.

(Resource for teaching intrinsic motivation:

In conclusion, in order for students, adults or not, to improve their second language fluency, they must learn how to learn, they must learn to pay attention, and they must learn to be intrinsically motivated. These three things are an excellent way to prepare students to be good students, but in order for them to learn how to be functional in their target language, they must focus on incorporating the things they are learning into actual use. If a student learns a bunch of verb forms and vocabulary but never actually uses it in a conversational setting or in actual language production, they will not truly learn how to use their new language. David Perkins calls this “playing the whole game” and it is a fantastic way to engage students in true and authentic learning (Perkins, 2009).

(Here is a list of ten TED talks that will help the language learner be a better language leaner:


BozemanScience. (2009, October 4). Metacognition: Learning about Learning. Retrieved from

Cerasoli, C. P., Nicklin, J. M., & Ford, M. T. (2014). Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic incentives jointly predict performance: A 40-year meta-analysis.Psychological Bulletin140(4), 980.

Perkins, D. N., & ebrary, I. (2009). Making Learning Whole : How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.

Semple, R. J. (2010). Does mindfulness meditation enhance attention? A randomized controlled trial. Mindfulness1(2), 121-130. Retrieved from

tedtalks. (2011, April 17). Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD – Brain: Memory and Multitasking.          Retrieve from

Tedtalksdirector. (2013, November 22). Peter Doolittle: How your “working memory” makes sense of the world. Retrieved at

Cognitive Science and Language Learning

Learning a whole new language is a difficult task. Think about how difficult it is for you to remember a ‘to-do’ list, a phone number, or a line of poetry. Now, think about how difficult it would be to memorize the entire lexicon of a foreign language, say Icelandic. Finally, think about how difficult it would be to not only memorize all of those words, but to memorize how to put them together in grammatically correct ways that make sense to native speakers. In short, it is an infuriatingly hard thing to do. Fortunately, study into the way the mind works, or Cognitive Science (CS), has led to some improvements in the way foreign languages (FL) are taught by way of a better understanding of how the mind works. Understanding the mechanisms by which the brain learns has allowed FL teachers to teach students not only how to use the target language but also how to learn it. There is so much to say about the implications of CS on FL learning, but I only want to write about three in this post – how learning physically happens in the brain, learning styles, and how CS led to Artificial Intelligence that is helpful in the FL learning process.

Cognitive Science has led to an understanding of the way the human brain works, thereby giving us a window into the way a persomind gearsn thinks and learns. What we know about the way the brain physically learns something is that the brain is made up of billions of neurons that hold information gathered through a person’s experiences in the world, which are then encoded in the neuron as a memory, and that these neurons are grouped into individual circuits, which are made up of  10,000 neurons that have “tens of thousands of millions of connections” (streetwisdombilly, 2010) between them. These neurons transmit information, or memories, from one to the other by building connections, like a bridge, that they can then cross over more easily the next time that circuit is activated. Ensuring that the bridge holds requires repeated activation of that circuit by way of performing, or repeating, the action that created the connection in the first place. In fact, “when people repeatedly practice an activity or access a memory, their neural networks…shape themselves according to that activity or memory. When people stop practicing new things, the brain will eventually eliminate, or ‘prune,’ the connecting cells that formed the pathways” (Bernard, 2010). This means that practice is the best way to reinforce the neural connections created when something is learned or risk losing it.

Understanding how the mind works helps a person to understand how they learn, which, in turn, allows them adopt better, more effective learning strategies. In order to adopt a better learning strategy, a person should know more about their learning style. In fact, taking the Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire ( helped me to identify that I am prone to getting stalled on projects because I spend too much time thinking about them instead of actually doing anything. Take this assignment, for example. I thought about what I wanted to do, which direction I wanted to take my post in, and found myself stalled more than once. Knowing this was a part of my learning style, I just started writing something, which led us here. Learning styles essentially tell a person which sensory organ is their brain’s favorite with which to learn something new. When someone is trying to learn a new language, should they focus one organ over another? No, of course not. It is best to pump information into the brain through as many channels as possible. The more input the brain has – physical stimulus, visual, auditory – the more neural connections will form and more will be learned. Because “Language learning…is intertwined with the other language skills, such as reading, writing, and listening” (Wang, 2007, p 1), it is important to stimulate all of these senses in the language learning process.

Understanding how the brain works, has also led to the creation of artificial intelligence smart enough to aid in the language learning process. Take Lucy for example.Robot It is a program that has a massive dictionary and an algorithm that allows it to communicate on a rudimentary level. Since “generally speaking, one of the most important things for language learning is interaction” (Yang, 2007, p 2), Lucy allows language learners to interact with “someone” in their target language. This would not have been possible without Cognitive Science because understanding how information is transmitted along neural networks in the brain provided the template used in the construction of AI.


To conclude, there are billions of tiny cells in your brain that travel through tiny pathways to each of your sensory organs – your skin, your eyes, your ears, your tongue, and your nose – and carry information from your sensory organs straight to your brain, where the neurons share this information with other neurons by way of building bridges to between them. This means that thinking, learning, and being you is all because of the firing of these tiny little cells. Everything you are and everything you know about yourself and the world boils down to electrical activity in the brain. What an astonishing idea. Cognitive science has given us the tools to discover and understand this and to better understand how we learn about our world. Again, Cognitive Science has so many implications on foreign language learning and teaching, but there are too many to cover in this post and, besides, this post has gone on long enough.


Bernard, S. (2010, December 1). Neuroplasticity: Learning Physically Changes the Brain.

Retrieved from

Streetwisdombilly. (2010, June 10). How We Learn – Synapses and Neural Pathways. Retrieved from:

Yang, S. (2007, April). Artificial Intelligence for Integrating English Oral Practice and Writing Skills. Sino-US English Teaching, 4(4), 1-7

Digitally Mediated Teaching & Learning

Before taking this class, I was not a savvy user of digital media. I only just learned to use Facebook a few years ago and have recently gotten comfortable with it. When I started this class, I signed up for Twitter, Tumblr, and a few other digital media sites that I hicon-set-1175041_960_720ad never used before. I have since been playing with these tools, trying to acclimate myself to the new digital landscape, and I have found that I am actually enjoying how useful they can be. The readings assigned in this class have brought up issues that I had not considered. I had not given any thought to the way in which a professional could use digital media to promote themselves and further their career. I had not thought about how important it is to maintain a professional and positive online presence. Digital identity was not on my radar, but it is now. I am now more cognizant of how I portray myself online and find myself regulating the content that I post. This class has helped me to become a more modern professional that focuses on how digital media can be of use in propelling my career into the direction I want it to be heading.

Blogging was never something I felt comfortable with. I never education-381909_960_720considered blogging to be something I would ever do and could not see the utility in it. The research that I have done in this class on how blogging is used to enhance the learning experience and how it improves the learning process has really changed my opinion on its
usefulness in the classroom. Blogging allows students to demonstrate what they know, it allows them to be creative and make the learning process fun, and it allows them the flexibility to personalize their learning experience. Blogging really is the classroom tool of the future.


Image 1 retrived at

Image 2 retrieved at