Social Learning Theory and E/I Programming

As children grow up they learn the world around them through several sources such as parents, friends, and media. In modern times children are getting much of their learning and socialization through television. The Cultivation Theory reveals that many children in the US learn how to talk to one another, talk to adults, and even talk to themselves through the programs they watch on TV (K. Drogos, lecture, February 11, 2015). There have been an extensive amount of studies on the effects that TV has on children. Studies that research about how aggressive TV makes children to how much a child can understand what they are watching. These studies have shown that television can have a negative impact on children when it is watched excessively. They have also shown that TV can be instrumental in teaching children positive things like socioemotional and cognitive skills.

The Social Learning Theory, created by Albert Bandura, states that when a child see a model act out a behavior and then see it the model’s behavior reinforced they are very likely to repeat the behavior themselves (K. Drogos, lecture, February 16, 2015). This has a profound importance when considering the behaviors that actors and characters are performing on the programs that children watching. If children are spending hours and hours everyday in front of the TV watching programs that are influencing their behaviors we must consider what programs we allow children to watch.

At the time of some of these studies, from the 1960 to the 1970’s, there were very few educational shows. George Gerber’s longitudinal content analysis of TV programs from the 60’s to the 80’s revealed that about 90% of TV shows contained violence (K. Drogos, lecture, February 11, 2015). People started getting concerned when these studies were getting published. To answer this dilemma the U.S. government stepped in and enacted laws that required television networks that use public airwaves to air a minimum of three and a half hours of educational and informational (E/I) programming geared towards children.

E/I programs are required to offer lessons that teach children science, health, math, and social interaction. These lessons can be part of the plot, subplot, or dialogues. Formal features can be leveraged as well to help teach the lessons. We creating these E/I shows producers must consider the ages and comprehension levels of the children that the show is geared towards. The younger the child is, the more simple the show needs to be, and formal features need to be used more.

A study by Piaget revealed that children’s attention and comprehension are very limited. That in order for children to make sense of the world they do what is called assimilation and accommodation. This is when a child takes material into their mind from their environment which then becomes a part of their thought process. How well a child is able to do this and depends on complexity and on their age according to Piaget. (K. Drogos, lecture, February 14, 2015).

Piaget categorized children’s ability to assimilate and accommodate into four stages. For 0-2 years old their stage is sensory motor. In this stage children begin to differentiate themselves from from other people and objects. In this stage children learn to react intentionally. Essentially, children are not able to discern the difference between real life and TV. From 2-7 years children are in the preoperational stage. Children in this stage learn to use language and recognize words. Though they are developing language they aren’t quite able to see things of the points of view of others. Children begin to understand that TV isn’t actual reality but they do tend to believe that what they watch on TV can or does happen, even things like flying superheroes (K. Drogos, lecture, February 14, 2015).

The third stage is called concrete operational. These are the 7-11 year olds. During these years children learn to think logically about objects and what they are watching. These children know what they are watching generally are not real but at time can believe some of it is possible even if it is unlikely to happen. The last stage is formal operational. This stage is for 11 years old and up. At that stage adolescents can think in abstract terms, think about the future and hypothetical situations (K. Drogos, lecture, February 14, 2015).

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