Program Design: Considering Personal, Behavioral, and Environmental Factors

Melissa Cater, PhD

Today we will take a look at what Social Cognitive Theory can add to our program design toolbox. Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) was first proposed by Miller and Dollard (1941) as a theory of social learning and later expanded by Bandura (1977). The theory is very relevant to all areas of Extension programming because it seeks to explain how people acquire and maintain behaviors and provides a foundation for designing, implementing and evaluating programs. People learn both from their own experiences and from observing the experiences of the people surrounding them (see Figure 1).


SCT integrates concepts from behaviorist, cognitive, and emotional models of behavior change (Bandura, 1977).  Some key principles include self-efficacy, self-regulation, observational learning, outcome expectations, behavioral capability, and reinforcement (see Figure 2).

Using SCT in Program Design

So what does SCT look like in action? Programs may offer multiple experiences for the individual and may target both the individual and his or her social and/or physical environment. A few examples are provided in the table below. Since we all learn from each other, please offer your ideas for putting these principles into practice in the comments section of this post!!

SCT in Action: An Extension Program Example

An excellent illustration of SCT in action within the field of agriculture is provided as a Case Example on the National Ag Safety Database. In brief, the case example tells the story of injury and death from overturned tractors without roll-over protection systems (ROPS) and the change in attitudes needed to support both observational learning and the application of acquired knowledge.  In this particular case, the farmer had observed numerous occurrences of injury and death from tractor roll-overs within his community; however, his own positive personal experiences gave him a false sense of self-efficacy concerning his driving skills. While he had clearly observed the potential consequences of driving tractors without ROPS and had the knowledge needed to adopt better practices, he did not have attitudes to support using that knowledge and adopting better practices. In this particular case, Extension program planners are challenged to decode the influencing factors in order to intentionally affect farmer attitudes through programming.

In fact, this raises the question, “How do we develop programs which target changed attitudes?” While this is a great question, it is a question for another day and another blog post. Stay tuned as this is a question we will address in tomorrow’s post.


Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215.

Bandura, A. (2011). The social and policy impact of social cognitive theory. In M. Mark, S. Donaldson, & B. Campbell (Eds.), Social Psychology and Evaluation. New York: Guilford Press.

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