Social Cognitive Theory: Understanding its Role in Education

The Community Oral Health (COH) Program introduces students to the underlying foundations for selecting methods and strategies for implementing health education programs; methods selected
by health clinicians should be grounded in behavior change theory. The health education profession has subscribed to several theories considering variables influencing individual behavior and population health. 

What is a theory?

In the context of health behavior interventions, a theory is a general explanation of why people act or do not act to maintain and promote the health of themselves, their families, organizations, and communities. (Bensley, 2019).

Postgraduate Degree in Community Oral Health

Like what you’re learning?  Consider enrolling in the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC’s online, competency-based certificate or master’s program in Community Oral Health.

More About Theories

A theory is a hypothesis about what may happen and therefore contains statements about the relationship among variables. People use working theories in everyday life, usually as working
hypotheses. When planning a health program or when understanding the behavior of a health program participant, a primary consideration is to specify what is to be explained or predicted with a theory. (Issel, 2022)

One theory COH studies is Social Cognitive Theory SCT, a theory and belief explaining human behavior in terms of a three-way, reciprocal phenomenon in which personal factors,
environmental influences, and behavior continually interact and influence each other.

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) is essential to Health Program Planning; however, SCT also has enormous application to students and learners because the theory explains how knowledge is
constructed. SCT is the belief that people learn through their own experiences and by observing the actions of others and the results of those actions.

Six concepts essential to understanding SCT:

  1. Behavior changes are determined by interactions between a person and their environment. 
  2. A person can change behavior by having the knowledge and skills necessary to enact a desired behavior.
  3. What a person expects as a result of modifying behavior. 
  4. The response to a person’s behavior will increase the continuance of the behavior.
  5. Self-Efficacy is believing and experiencing action, persistence, and goal attainment. Accomplishing obtainable goals establishes a person’s degree of efficacy. 
  6. Observational Learning includes the ability to learn by observing others. In so doing, a person can see success and failure and the positive or negative effects of these results. 

Join COH colleagues to gain a more in-depth understanding of theory practice and application.

Earn an Online Postgraduate Degree in Community Oral Health

Like what you’re learning? Consider enrolling in the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC’s online, competency-based certificate or master’s program in Community Oral Health.


  • Bensley, R. & Brookins-Fisher, J. (2019). Community and Public Health Education Methods: A
    Practical Guide (4th ed.). Jones & Bartlett Learning.
  • Issel, L. M., & Wells, R. (2018). Health program planning and evaluation: A practical,
    systematic approach for community health (4th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
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Posted: April 19, 2023
<a href="" target="_self">Rebecca Ortiz Bodensteiner MAT, RDH</a>

Rebecca Ortiz Bodensteiner MAT, RDH

Rebecca Ortiz Bodensteiner is a full-time Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry faculty member. She works in the Special Patients Clinic, providing direct supervision to students and caring for patients- and is part of the Behavioral Dentistry Faculty and teaches courses in the Online Master of Community Oral Health and Certification Program at Ostrow.

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