The success of the online learning experience is a testament to its suitability, especially when it comes to adult learning. It is a contrast to the conventional world of graduate school, which is very restrictive in terms of academic experience. A contrast of the two viewpoints with respect to the social cognitive point of view will also help to explain that the new pattern appears to combine elements of online learning with the conventional world of graduate school. The social cognitive theory maintains that learning involves the interaction of three types of influences namely: personal, behavioral, and environmental factors. As such the effectiveness of an approach to the learning process is not determined by one factor but rather the interaction of a variety factors. Personal factors that influence the learning process include motivation, attitudes, and cognitive abilities while behavioral factors include actions and choices of the learner. Environmental factors, in this context, include educational resources, instructors, and physical settings. This is why an aspect such as observation of peers plays a vital role in the learning process according to the theory. In the traditional graduate school setting, the environment itself fosters the learning process due to the interaction of personal, behavioral, and environmental factors. Learning by observation and immediacy through physical interaction are salient factors in this case. The online learning setting is, however, tricky because “research has found that online students tend to lack focus, willingness to participate, confidence, and discipline” (Wang & Lin, 2007). As such, self- motivated learners will usually experience better outcomes due to the nature of the online setting. As such, the responsibility of the student is higher in the online learning environment. The type of social engagement also differs between the two environments. In the traditional graduate setting, a teacher can influence learning through factors such as enthusiasm and the use of non- verbal cues that include the likes of eye contact. In the online setting, however, the predominant forms of interactions between the instructor and the students are positive feedback through discussion boards and responding to issues raised by students in the online learning portal. This illustrates the distinction between the two learning environments with respect to the social cognitive theory of learning.
Wang, S- L., & Lin, S.S.J. (2007). The application of social cognitive theory to web- based learning through NetPorts. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38 (4), 600- 612.