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The process of human development has been explained through the use of different theories such as social cognitive theory, self determination theory, Five-factor theory as well as self regulation among others. Psychologists have been actively involved in the study of human behavior and motivation with an effort of trying to understand and explain the existence of different human personalities. Physiological functions are also vital when assessing human behavior since it is by studying physiological tendencies that one can link them to psychological functions. To understand human development requires psychologists to broadly investigate social, cultural, environmental and physiological aspects that determine human life paths as well as the growth of capabilities. According to Berk (2009), there are three major aspects of human development that overlap and interact in shaping up a human being. These domains are physical development, cognitive development and emotional and social development (Berk, 2009). In physical development, an individual experiences overall body changes that include change in body size as well as physical health, whereas cognitive development entails changes in intellectual abilities, innovation and creativity. On the other hand, emotional and social development encompasses alterations in moral reasoning and behavior, understanding one self and others as well as building of social relationships (Berk, 2009). This paper, therefore, focuses on social cognitive theory, self determination theory and self regulation as applied in the academic field. Additionally, it gives a description of the roles of cooperative learning and the environment in motivating students.
Social Cognitive Theory
Social cognitive theory has been used by psychologists to explain the development of different human personalities. According to Cervone, Shadel & Jencius (2001), social cognitive theory is defined by several features. Firstly, social cognitive theory is founded on the model of reciprocal causation (Bandura, 1989) or in other words reciprocal determinism (Cervone, Shadel & Jencius, 2001). This model dictates that human development is influenced by a bidirectional interaction between personal factors, such as behavior and cognition and social settings (environmental factors) (Bandura, 1989; Cervone, Shadel & Jencius, 2001). However, these factors interact at different magnitudes and periods and hence take time to bring about a change. Bandura (1989) asserts that people do not only shape their environment, but are also shaped by the environment they live in, since there are reciprocal interactions between people and their environment. For example, a person living in a peaceful environment will be polite, kind and caring, whereas a person brought up in a hostile environment will be violent. On the other hand, an aggressive and violent person will create an environment full of hatred and hostility whereas a polite person will create a peaceful environment. However, the above reciprocal interactions are not simultaneous.
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Secondly, relying on Cervone, Shadel & Jencius (2001), social cognitive theory gives an analysis of different factors that shape personalities. The theory, according to Cervone, Shadel & Jencius (2001) draws a link between “cognitive structures of skills and social competencies, knowledge structures that people use to interpret situations, self-reflective processes, which guide people in the adoption of beliefs about themselves and the social environment as well as self-regulatory processes that guide people in the establishment of personal goals and standards for performance that motivate them to reach desired standards”.
The third defining feature of social cognitive theory is that it views personality as a complex, dynamic system, where social-cognitive and affective processes continuously interact (Cervone, Shadel & Jencius, 2001). Personality is a complex system encompassing self-regulation, self-determination as well as self-reference that contributes towards human development and behavior.
Another feature of social cognitive theory is self-reflective capabilities, which encompass self-efficacy which enables a person to exercise control over events affecting his life (Bandura, 1989). It is through self-efficacy that one draws judgments on the type of actions that he will take in life. However, the consequences are determined by the accuracy of one’s judgment capabilities. Moreover, self-efficacy guides people on what to do and how long it will take to do the chosen action.
Social cognitive theory also entails self-regulation capabilities that one adopts in order to determine the direction to follow. It is through self-regulation capabilities that a person chooses the motivating factors as well as behavioral attributes to posses (Bandura, 1989). Once fully developed internally as an individual, a person is able to socialize with others without being swayed to follow other people’s ways. In other words, self-regulation guides a person in developing his identity as an individual.
Vicarious capability is another aspect of human development that is discussed in the social cognitive theory. Relying on Bandura (1989), vicarious learning entails observing others so as to acquire knowledge and skills and further expand their knowledge base. Moreover, through vicarious learning, people get to learn other cultures and ways of living as well as languages; values, attitudes, beliefs and customs.
Practical application of social cognitive theory can be done in the academic field, especially during the training of students on life skills such as abstinence from risky sexual behaviors. For example, a teacher can present a film showing the effects of risky sexual behaviors and through it the students will learn from observation that there are fatal risks associated with such a behavior.
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Moreover, social cognitive theory is applied differently when dealing with different populations since each individual group is unique and learns at different rates. For example, when dealing with adolescents, a trainer has to be careful with the use of models since they (adolescents) have not yet fully developed and can be easily swayed.
Self regulation is an important feature of social cognitive theory that guides individuals in making decisions in life; it helps a person in staying in control of his behavior and emotions as well as staying focused and attentive. According to Gillespie & Seibel (2006), self regulation in children is vital in shaping their behavior. Moreover, self regulation can be cultivated from a tender age, when parents and caregivers show compassion and support to children (Gillespie & Seibel, 2006). Self-regulation also determines how people respond to different situations and influences human behavior that is desirable to both the individual and the society (Baumster & Vohs, 2007). For example, a person with problems in self regulation may find himself being quite temperamental when people disagree with him or go against his will.
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It is important for learners and employees to possess self regulation so that they can work together in groups with limited disagreements. Team work requires people to be able to control their emotions so that they can work harmoniously with their partners to achieve the desired goals. Self regulation among learners and employees also helps them in learning from one another through sharing of ideas and information that is vital for self development.
Children and adolescents in most cases find it hard to regulate their emotions and actions as compared to their adult counterparts. This is so because these populations are experiencing physical as well as physiological changes that they cannot understand. Moreover, children and adolescents are at the discovery stage where they are interested in exploring more in life. They also possess the ‘I am too young’ or ‘I do not care’ attitudes, since they do not have much responsibilities at hand. However, self regulation can be promoted among these populations by extending a caring and supporting hand. For example, as a parent one can help a child in feeding or dressing itself. This will instill confidence in the child and lay a basis for developing self regulation.
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Online students such as research students face the risk of cheating in tests. These students can decide to pay another person top take the test for them. Alternatively, these students may decide to copy or plagiarize another author’s work and pass it as their own. However, with self regulation, these students can be honest in their tests by choosing to perform all the tasks as if a supervisor was present there. In this case, self regulation breeds self control.
Self determination theory
According to Deci & Ryan (2008), self determination theory covers the important aspects of human development that include development of personalities, self regulation, motivation, social environments as well as universal psychological needs. The three psychological needs according to Vansteenkiste, Lens & Deci (2006) are autonomy, competence and relatedness. In educational psychology, this theory has been used to explain the use of different study methodologies by students and the outcomes from using such study strategies.
Initially, self determination theory was used to explain the quality of motivation the learner’s exhibited in a learning environment (Vansteenkiste, Lens & Deci, 2006). This analysis was used to determine whether students’ learning experiences were motivated by internal factors (intrinsic motivation), such as the quest for knowledge and the pleasure derived from reading or were motivated by external factors (extrinsic motivation), such as societal expectations. Further, this theory splits motivation into the four clusters of intrinsic, extrinsic, autonomous and controlled motivation (Vansteenkiste, Lens & Deci, 2006). Autonomous motivation entails the free will to learn, whereas controlled motivation entails being forced or pressured to learn.
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The need for autonomy pressures a learner to search for knowledge so as to be independent. Research has shown that an autonomy supportive environment encourages autonomous motivation whereas a controlling environment breeds controlled motivation. Moreover, competence encourages a learner to be persistent in studies; a competitive environment motivates a learner to work harder. The need for relatedness encourages learners to search wider in order to expand their knowledge. Learners will also be motivated to learn new things so that they can interact with other people in possession of such knowledge. Thwarting these psychological needs in the learning environment brings about consequences, such as decreased creativity; stress and depression; increased drop-out cases; low achievement and superficial information processing.
Vansteenkiste, Lens & Deci (2006) state that, “intrinsic motivation represents engagement in an activity for its own sake.” The need for competence underlies intrinsic motivation, since people want to feel a sense of competence. In order to maintain and promote intrinsic motivation, it is advisable for trainers to ensure that they promote autonomy and reduce pressure on learners so as to encourage self- initiation. Additionally, instructors should always be timely when giving feedback to learners.
Furthermore, an environment that promotes autonomy, competence and relatedness encourages motivation. An environment that supports autonomy will encourage motivation, since people will be encouraged to pursue things at their own free. Similarly, a competent environment motivates learners to work harder. Finally, an environment characterized by team work and brotherhood motivates people to learn new things so as to be able to belong to a group.
Felder & Brent (n.d) define cooperative learning as the teamwork of students that produces a product under conditions satisfying the criteria of “positive interdependence; individual accountability; face-to-face interaction; appropriate use of interpersonal skills; and regular self-assessment of team functioning”. If properly implemented, cooperative learning improves communication and teamwork skills, such as leadership, problem-solving/conflict resolution skills, creativity and innovation as well as management skills.
For students from different cultural backgrounds, cooperative learning encourages team work, which further expands the knowledge of each individual in the group. Weak students working in a team get to strengthen their weaknesses and hence broaden their knowledge. Roger & Johnson (2009) acknowledge that working in groups yields high quality works as compared to work individually. Additionally, cooperative learning promotes motivation, especially among weak students, since they can work face-to-face with strong students and learn from them from a first-hand base. Moreover, group work in a classroom encourages creativity and innovation since different ideas are bombarded to come up with a super idea. For students from different cultural backgrounds, cooperative learning is a good platform for learning about different cultures and ways of dealing with different people from different cultures. It promotes understanding of people regardless of their cultural backgrounds.
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An example of a face-to-face cooperative learning activity is the performance of fieldwork research on a certain topic. In this activity, students will share responsibilities and in the final analysis sit down to share the results collected. The final report is uniform and will represent the results obtained by every member of the group.
Creating an Effective Psychological Climate in a Classroom
As an instructor, being actively involved in the layout of a classroom will create conducive environment for students to study and feel comfortable. One of the ways of making a classroom psychologically fit for students is through reviewing the sitting arrangement. It is advisable to arrange the seats in such a way that a bright student sits next to a slow learner. This will motivate the slow learners to work harder and also consult with the bright student. Additionally, an environment of equality is created through such an arrangement. A second way is by hanging charts with different cultural aspects such that an environment of equity is created. All students will be comfortable, since they feel that they are appreciated despite their cultural background.
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In order to prevent bullying incidents in a classroom, an instructor should encourage team work such that most of the learning experiences in the classroom are done in groups. This way, a bully will find it difficult to bully an individual; bullies target individuals and hence when in a group they cannot bully anyone. Another approach of reducing bullying incidents is by making sure that the bullies sit at the front of the classroom, where their movements are closely monitored. It is also advisable for an instructor to constantly remind bullies that it is an offence to bully others and there are harsh consequences following such an offence.
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