Self-Efficacy: Its Relationship to Learning

Self-Efficacy: Its Relationship to Learning
Self-Efficacy: Its Relationship to Learning
The definition of self-efficacy is straightforward: “a person's perception that he or she has the skill and capability to undertake a particular task.” (p. 1918) It's important to teachers because of its “consistent” and “demonstrable” links to student learning outcomes. If students believe they can learn the content (that they're smart enough) or execute the skills, that significantly increases the chance they will accomplish the learning task.

To continue reading, you must be a Teaching Professor Subscriber. Please log in or sign up for full access.

Related Articles

Love ’em or hate ’em, student evaluations of teaching (SETs) are here to stay. Parts <a href="https://www.teachingprofessor.com/free-article/its-time-to-discuss-student-evaluations-bias-with-our-students-seriously/" target="_blank"...

Since January, I have led multiple faculty development sessions on generative AI for faculty at my university. Attitudes...
Does your class end with a bang or a whimper? Many of us spend a lot of time crafting...

Faculty have recently been bombarded with a dizzying array of apps, platforms, and other widgets that...

The rapid rise of livestream content development and consumption has been nothing short of remarkable. According to Ceci...

Feedback on performance has proven to be one of the most important influences on learning, but students consistently...

The definition of self-efficacy is straightforward: “a person's perception that he or she has the skill and capability to undertake a particular task.” (p. 1918) It's important to teachers because of its “consistent” and “demonstrable” links to student learning outcomes. If students believe they can learn the content (that they're smart enough) or execute the skills, that significantly increases the chance they will accomplish the learning task. And the amount of research that supports the role of self-efficacy in learning is convincing. Findings in the meta-analysis highlighted here are based on 64 different studies. The meta-analysis builds on another review of research published in 2011. Another review of research (published in 2012) looked at 50 different measures believed to influence learning as measured by grades. It looked at 241 studies and found self-efficacy was the strongest correlate with GPA among all 50 of the different measures. The nature of these beliefs students have about what they can and can't learn merits our further exploration. Here's the first message that emerged from this 64-study review: self-efficacy is strongly associated with student achievement, as well as self-regulation, motivation, and strategy use. (p. 1923) Researchers report that the relationship between self-efficacy and achievement was significant in 92percent of the studies they analyzed. These studies were conducted in seven different countries (including the US and Canada) and across a wide range of disciplines. Also of note, self-efficacy was not just associated with achievement. The research found strong correlations between it and 20 variables they deemed relevant, things like: self-regulation, metacognition, locus of control, intrinsic motivation, and learning strategy use. In other words, students with high levels of self-efficacy do the behaviors that promote learning. They're motivated and willing to devote time and effort to the task. They're self-regulating and disciplined. They plan study sessions and then execute those plans. They use good learning strategies—distributed practice, interleaving, and self-testing, for example. Their beliefs become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They do what they need to realize their self-expectations. Given the power of self-efficacy, the second key message is encouraging: teachers can intervene to raise student self-efficacy. Ten studies in this sample demonstrated that “self-efficacy was higher when particular teaching strategies were employed.” (p. 1924) Seven studies showed that self-efficacy improved over a period of time probably as a result of completing a course or a particular learning activity. That's the good news. The not so helpful news is that the courses and related activities that garnered the improvement in the studies tend to be very specific, discipline- and course-related. They're not easily replicated and if they aren't replicated according to the study design, then the results aren't guaranteed. It is always a challenge to extrapolate general conclusions from individual studies. The researchers observe, “As scholars, we need to become skillful at extracting pedagogical principles from publications or presentations reporting on work conducted in a range of disciplinary settings. . .for adaptation and testing in our own particular teaching situations.” (p. 1931). What's at issue here is how research that advances knowledge gets translated into evidence-based principles that can be applied to practice. However, there is help for teachers in self-efficacy theory which explores how learners decide if they can or can't do or learn something? Those beliefs derive from four main sources and each in an area over which teachers have some control. First, performance accomplishments, or the actual experiences of success or failure, are part of what develops self-efficacy beliefs. If a learner tries something and completes it successfully, that's evidence that they can. Frequently that motivates a second attempt and success then further builds the belief. However, not all failure experiences decrease self-efficacy—it's repeated failure experiences that do. For teachers then, it's understanding the importance of those first experiences and selecting ones where the chance of success is good. It's also understanding that failure can be a learning experience or it can erode self-efficacy beliefs. Unfortunately, many students arrive in our courses with firmly established beliefs, and for many of them, it's about what they can't do. “I can't write.” “I'm very bad a math.” They desperately need experiences that challenge those beliefs and teachers who recognize that changing them is a process. The student who has never before gotten a decent grade on a math test often attributes a decent grade to luck, prayer, or clean living. Beyond experiences that challenge beliefs, self-efficacy is also developed by vicarious experiences—that is, by seeing the success or failure of another person, especially if the person is someone like the observer. So, if women in engineering programs see other women doing the problems, performing in lab, and succeeding in courses, that's persuasive and motivating. And the opposite happens as well. If students see other students failing or don't see any other students like themselves succeeding, then those vicarious experiences accomplish the wrong result. Teachers also need to be aware that self-efficacy beliefs are influenced by social persuasion. It makes a huge difference if a faltering student has a teacher who believes in them and continues to believe, even in the face of failure. The statement of belief is made acknowledging that the student has far to go, much to learn, is not close to the goal, but the student still has the potential to reach the goal. Teachers can powerfully influence the development of self-efficacy and just as powerfully compromise those beliefs. And finally, beliefs about ability are influenced by the physiological reactions that come to be associated with the learning task. How does the learner feel about what he or she is trying to learn? If the experience provokes anxiety, fear, and stress, those emotions get woven into beliefs about self-efficacy. This is why teachers should pay special attention to those aspects of instruction that many students do find anxiety-provoking—being called to answer a question, various aspects of testing situations, and critical feedback on performance, for example. It's difficult to underestimate the power of beliefs about ability to influence learning. A belief in the ability to do something enables a learner to confront a task with confidence, to organize what needs to be done, to know or figure out how it should be done and then to set about doing it. If students don't believe in their abilities, success is a much less likely outcome. Teachers can intervene—they can be part of the set up for success or they can be part of the reason students don't succeed. Reference: Bartimote-Augglick, K., Bridgeman, A., Walker, R., Sharma, M. and Smith, L. (2016). The study, evaluation and improvement of university student self-efficacy. Studies in Higher Education, 14 (11), 1918-1942.