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Current theoretical accounts of learning and instruction postulate that students are active seekers and processors of information (Pintrich et al. 1986). Research indicates that students’ cognitions inﬂuence the instigation, direction, strength, and persistence of achievement behaviors (Schunk 1995).
This research paper reviews the role of one type of personal cognition: self-eﬃcacy, or one’s perceived capabilities for learning or performing behaviors at designated levels (Bandura 1997). The role of self-eﬃcacy in educational contexts is discussed to include the cues that students use to appraise their self-eﬃcacy. A model of the operation of self-eﬃcacy is explained, along with some key ﬁndings from educational research. The entry concludes by describing the role of teacher eﬃcacy and suggesting future research directions.
1. Self-Eﬃcacy Theory
Self-eﬃcacy can aﬀect choice of activities, eﬀort, persistence, and achievement (Bandura 1997, Schunk 1991). Compared with students who doubt their learning capabilities those with high self-eﬃcacy for accomplishing a task participate more readily, work harder, persist longer when they encounter diﬃculties, and demonstrate higher achievement.
Learners acquire information to appraise self-eﬃcacy from their performance accomplishments, vicarious (observational) experiences, forms of persuasion, and physiological reactions. Students’ own performances oﬀer reliable guides for assessing eﬃcacy. Successes raise self-eﬃcacy and failures lower it, but once a strong sense of self-eﬃcacy is developed a failure may not have much impact (Bandura 1986). Learners also acquire self-eﬃcacy information from knowledge of others through classroom social comparisons. Similar others oﬀer the best basis for comparison.
Students who observe similar peers perform a task are apt to believe that they, too, are capable of accomplishing it. Information acquired vicariously typically has a weaker eﬀect on self-eﬃcacy than performance-based information because the former can be negated easily by subsequent failures. Students often receive persuasive information from teachers and parents that they are capable of performing a task (e.g., ‘You can do this’). Positive feedback enhances self-eﬃcacy, but this increase will be temporary if subsequent eﬀorts turn out poorly. Students also acquire eﬃcacy information from physiological reactions (e.g., heart rate, sweating). Symptoms signaling anxiety might be interpreted to mean that one lacks skills.
Information acquired from these sources does not automatically inﬂuence self-eﬃcacy; rather, it is cognitive appraised (Bandura 1986). In appraising eﬃcacy, learners weigh and combine perceptions of their ability, the diﬃculty of the task, the amount of eﬀort expended, the amount of external assistance received, the number and pattern of successes and failures, similarity to models, and credibility of persuaders (Schunk 1991).
Self-eﬃcacy is not the only inﬂuence in educational settings. Achievement behavior also depends on knowledge and skills, outcome expectations, and the perceived value of outcomes (Schunk 1991). High self-eﬃcacy does not produce competent performances when requisite knowledge and skills are lacking. Outcome expectations, or beliefs concerning the probable outcomes of actions, are important because students strive for positive outcomes. Perceived value of outcomes refers to how much learners desire certain outcomes relative to others. Learners are motivated to act in ways that they believe will result in outcomes they value.
Self-eﬃcacy is dynamic and changes as learning occurs. The hypothesized process whereby self-eﬃcacy operates during learning is as follows (Schunk 1996). Students enter learning situations with varying degrees of self-eﬃcacy for learning. They also have goals in mind, such as learning the material, working quickly, pleasing the teacher, and making a high grade. As they engage in the task, they receive cues about how well they are performing, and they use these cues to assess their learning progress and their self-eﬃcacy for continued learning. Perceived progress sustains motivation and leads to continued learning. Perceptions of little progress do not necessarily diminish self-eﬃcacy if learners believe they know how to perform better, such as by working harder, seeking help, or switching to a more eﬀective strategy (Schunk 1996).
2. Factors Aﬀecting Self-Eﬃcacy
There are many instructional, social, and environmental factors that operate during learning. Several of these factors have been investigated to determine how they inﬂuence learners’ self-eﬃcacy. For example, research has explored the roles of goal setting, social modeling, rewards, attributional feedback, social comparisons, progress monitoring, opportunities for self-evaluation of progress, progress feedback, and strategy instruction (Schunk 1995).
As originally conceptualized by Bandura, self-eﬃcacy is a domain-speciﬁc construct. Self-eﬃcacy research in education has tended to follow this guidance and assess students’ self-eﬃcacy within domains at the level of individual tasks. In mathematics, for example, students may be shown sample multiplication problems and for each sample judge their conﬁdence for solving similar problems correctly. Eﬃcacy scales typically are numerical and range from low to high conﬁdence. After completing the eﬃcacy assessment students are presented with actual problems to solve. These achievement test problems corresponding closely to those on the self-eﬃcacy test, although they are not identical. Such speciﬁcity allows researchers to relate self-eﬃcacy to achievement to determine correspondence and prediction (Pajares 1996). Other measures often collected by self-eﬃcacy researchers include persistence, motivation, and self-regulation strategies. Following a pretest, students receive instruction complemented by one or more of the preceding educational variables. After the instruction is completed students receive a post-test; in some studies follow-up maintenance testing is done.
A general ﬁnding from much educational self-eﬃcacy research is that educational variables inﬂuence self-eﬃcacy to the extent that they convey to learners information about their progress in learning (Schunk 1995). For example, much research shows that speciﬁc proximal goals raise self-eﬃcacy, motivation, and achievement better than do general goals (Schunk 1995). Short-term speciﬁc goals provide a clear standard against which to compare learning progress. As learners determine that they are making progress, this enhances their self-eﬃcacy for continued learning. In contrast, assessing progress against a general goal (e.g., ‘Do your best’) is diﬃcult; thus, learners receive less clear information about progress, and self-eﬃcacy is not strengthened as well.
3. Predictive Utility Of Self-Eﬃcacy
Self-eﬃcacy research has examined the relation of self-eﬃcacy to such educational outcomes as motivation, persistence, and achievement (Pajares 1996). Signiﬁcant and positive correlations have been obtained across many studies between self-eﬃcacy assessed prior to instruction and subsequent motivation during instruction. Initial judgments of self-eﬃcacy have been found also to correlate positively and signiﬁcantly with post-test measures of self-eﬃcacy and achievement collected following instruction.
Multiple regression has been used to determine the percentage of variability in skillful performance accounted for by self-eﬃcacy. Schunk and Swartz (1993) found that post-test self-eﬃcacy was the strongest predictor of children’s paragraph writing skills. Shell et al. (1989) found that although self-eﬃcacy and outcome expectations predicted reading and writing achievement, self-eﬃcacy was the strongest predictor.
Several studies have tested causal models. Schunk (1981) employed path analysis to reproduce the correlation matrix comprising long-division instructional method, self-eﬃcacy, persistence, and achievement. The best model showed a direct eﬀect of method on achievement and an indirect eﬀect through persistence and self-eﬃcacy, an indirect eﬀect of method on persistence through self-eﬃcacy, and a direct eﬀect of self-eﬃcacy on persistence and achievement. Schunk and Gunn (1986) found that the largest direct inﬂuence on achievement was due to use of eﬀective learning strategies; achievement also was heavily inﬂuenced by self-eﬃcacy.
4. Teacher Self-Eﬃcacy
Self-eﬃcacy is applicable to teachers as well as students. Ashton and Webb (1986) postulated that self-eﬃcacy should inﬂuence teachers’ activities, eﬀorts, and persistence. Teachers with low self-eﬃcacy may avoid planning activities that they believe exceed their capabilities, may not persist with students having diﬃculties, may expend little eﬀort to ﬁnd materials, and may not reteach content in ways students might better understand. Teachers with higher self-eﬃcacy might develop challenging activities, help students succeed, and persevere with students who have trouble learning. These motivational eﬀects enhance student learning and substantiate teachers’ self-eﬃcacy by suggesting that they can help students learn.
Correlational data show that self-eﬃcacy is related to teaching behavior. Ashton and Webb (1986) found that teachers with higher self-eﬃcacy were likely to have a positive classroom environment (e.g., less student anxiety and teacher criticism), support students’ ideas, and meet the needs of all students. High teacher self-eﬃcacy was positively associated with use of praise, individual attention to students, checking on students’ progress in learning, and their mathematical and language achievement. Tschannen-Moran et al. (1998) discuss teacher self-eﬃcacy in greater depth.
5. Future Research Directions
The proliferation of self-eﬃcacy research in education has enlightened understanding of the construct but also has resulted in a multitude of measures. In developing eﬃcacy assessments it is imperative that researchers attempt to be faithful to Bandura’s (1986) conceptualization of self-eﬃcacy as a domain-speciﬁc measure. Research will beneﬁt from researchers publishing their instruments along with validation data to include reliability and validity.
As self-eﬃcacy research continues in settings where learning occurs, it will be necessary to collect longitudinal data showing how self-eﬃcacy changes over time as a consequence of learning. This focus will require broadening of self-eﬃcacy assessments from reliance on numerical scales to qualitative data. Researchers also should relate measures of teacher self-eﬃcacy to those of student self-eﬃcacy to test the idea that these variables reciprocally inﬂuence one another.
Finally, research is needed on the role of self-eﬃcacy during self-regulation. Self-regulation refers to self-generated thoughts and actions that are systematically oriented toward attainment of one’s learning goals (Zimmerman 1990). Self-eﬃcacy has the potential to inﬂuence many aspects of self-regulation, yet to date only a few areas have been explored in research. This focus will become more critical as self-regulation assumes an increasingly important role in education.
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