Social Factors in Learning

Learning is greatly influenced by our interactions with significant others and begins immediately at birth. Our first and most primary relationship is with our parents, especially our mothers, and then with our families. Our interactions with others involve the basic human capacities of knowing, loving and willing and spur growth. Relating with others helps validate or modify our view of reality and of ourselves, and helps others do the same for themselves.

It is primarily in social groups that love and will are exercised and our capacity for unity, service and justice developed. Relationships that are caring, complementary, collaborative and cooperative are productive. Competitive relationships may be destructive in that they are divisive and unjust: they are based on limited views of love, truth and justice. They result in mistrust and alienation. If students are compared to one another and believe they are better or less than other people, their progress can be hindered. They should be encouraged according to their own capability to strive for their highest degree of excellence, not to be superior to the next person, but to improve so that they may better serve others.

Social interaction with others is also an effective method for investigating reality and gaining insight and understanding. Investigating truth with others helps create greater love, fellowship, unity, illumination, happiness, awareness, certainty, awakening and well-being. Having learners ask one another questions and help each other find the answers can further and accelerate learning. Peers can often explain things to one another in a manner that can be more easily understood and accepted and in the process acquire a deeper knowledge themselves. Children can learn many things in play and social activity.

Recognizing each individual’s intrinsic worth can help eliminate harmful social structures. Not all social influences are productive or good. Teachers can encourage and create healthy social environments in their classrooms and schools where the virtues of discipline, order, patience, forbearance, understanding, detachment, service, compassion, tolerance, love, kindness, fellowship, righteousness and other interpersonal skills are taught.

To improve the social climate, we can teach human relations skills, conflict resolution and consultation as ways of solving problems and dealing with differences. As we expand our loyalty and identity to include all humanity, make and enforce rules that preserve and enrich the dignity of all peoples and encourage positive interaction among people who are different from one another, we create the social conditions in which we can flourish. By creating prejudice-free environments that do not allow “put-downs” of others’ identities, we encourage all people to flourish and realize their potentials. By empathizing with others and helping build healthy self-concepts without developing a sense of superiority, we help develop characters that can improve our communities and institutions.

We can all follow and promote the golden rule and create positive united learning communities characterized by safety, stability, trust, caring, self-respect and a sense of belonging. As we learn to celebrate the uniqueness of each person, we will encourage self-acceptance, reflection and flexibility in thinking—all vital factors in developing a positive social learning climate. Our social skills involve developing moral competence and perspective taking using our thinking, feeling and willing capacities.

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About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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