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Bandura Learning Theory & Students With ADHD

by Van Thompson, studioD

Alfred Bandura was a mid-20th-century child psychologist who proposed the theory of social learning and developed the concept of self-efficacy. His work stands in contrast to theorists who argued that only reward and punishment influence behavior; instead, Bandura argued that a complex network of social interactions could affect behavior, beliefs and impulses. While Bandura did not directly address ADHD, his work can be applied to students with ADHD, offering guidance about how to help these students achieve.

Social Learning Theory

Bandura argued that social learning plays a strong role in shaping behavior and that children imitate the behavior they see, rather than follow the rules they are taught. Children observe others and mimic their behavior, emulating things that they see frequently or that they see getting good results. For example, a two-year-old who repeatedly sees her brother throw tantrums and then watches as her parents give into these tantrums might begin throwing tantrums of her own because she has learned of their effectiveness. According to Bandura, personality and behavior are not established in infancy or as part of a genetic legacy, but are a process of constant learning through interaction with the environment.


Self-efficacy is the ability to exert control over a situation. Bandura argued that a sense of self-efficacy is a critical component of healthy development. Children who have a strong sense of self-efficacy are more likely to take control over their own lives, by trying to make friends or doing their homework, for example. Children without a sense of self-efficacy may feel that the world is unpredictable and scary and that the decisions they make don't matter. Bandura emphasized people's self-governing nature, asserting that rather than being passively shaped by external forces, people actively shape their own identities.

Role in ADHD

ADHD can interfere with social learning. Children with the disorder are often hyper and distracted, which limits their ability to notice and emulate role models. They may also have trouble interacting with other kids and special education programs sometimes remove children with severe ADHD from traditional environments, which means that their peers -- after whom they often model their behavior -- end up being only other children with learning disabilities. ADHD can also interfere with self-efficacy, particularly when a child believes or is told that he can't control his own behavior.


Parents and educators should take extra steps to model the behavior they want to see in children with ADHD, rather than focusing solely on correcting behavior. Teaching children basic skills and encouraging independence and autonomy can help kids with learning disorders develop self-efficacy. This sense of self-efficacy can encourage them to take control of their ADHD by developing healthy coping mechanisms, following treatment plans and improving impulse control.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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