Self Efficacy

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Self-efficacy refers to "beliefs in one's capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to produce given attainments" (Bandura, 1997, p. 3), or "one's perceived capabilities for learning or performing actions at designated levels" (Schunk, Pintrich, & Meece, 2008, p. 379). Self-efficacy is an important construct in multiple theories of motivation (Bandura's social-cognitive theory of motivation, Eccles and Wigfield's expectancy-value theories, Weiner's attribution theory [REF]. It also features prominently in theories of self-regulated learning (Zimmerman, 2008; REFs). Self-efficacy has been studied extensively within the realm of education and many other domains (e.g., health, diet, quitting smoking, athletics).

The notion of self-efficacy encompasses both students' beliefs related to fairly specific tasks or abilities (e.g., solving linear equations, or solving a task similar to the next learning task) and students' beliefs related to broader competencies (e.g., their ability to do or learn algebra). However, as Pajares (1996) and others point out, self-efficacy beliefs tend to have greater predictive power when assessed relative to the same kinds of tasks on which performance is measured (while not discounting the utility of self-efficacy measures to predict broader outcomes, such as career choices, choice of college courses in the subject matter of interest, or interest in such courses). Thus, they recommend, where possible and appropriate, developing task/situation/context-specific measures of self-efficacy rather than using more global measures. Some studies have investigated how specific self-efficacy beliefs tend to be [REFS]. [VA: what did these studies find?]

The notion of self-efficacy is related to but different from constructs such as feeling of knowing (FOK), self-concept, self-competence, self-esteem, and outcome expectations. Although self-efficacy is an inherently subjective notion, in many academic learning situations people's subjective self-efficacy beliefs may be heavily influenced by more objective measurements of their competence, for example their results on tests and quizzes.

Measurement: self-efficacy is typically assessed by means of questionnaires (MSLQ?) and is often related to a specific academic task (for example, see Pajares (1996). Teacher assessment is sometimes used. Recently, researchers have started to devise ways to automatically measure self-efficacy within computer-based learning environments. For example, McQuiggan, Mott, and Lester (2008) [REFS - Boyer?] created a machine-learned detector that detects student behaviors that reflect high/low self-efficacy within a serious game. These kinds of detectors may turn out to be promising tools for researchers and may also be used to create learning environments that adapt to students' level of self-efficacy (e.g., by varying the challenge level).

Effects of self-efficacy beliefs Self-efficacy has been hypothesized to influence the choices that learners make, their effort, persistence, perseverance, and resiliency (e.g., Pajares, 1996, p. 566), all typical measures of motivation. Self-efficacy also has been hypothesized to influence the choice of learning strategies [REF Zimmerman, 2008?], as well and eventually, learning outcomes (or academic achievement). Under expectancy-value theory, self-efficacy is one factor that learners take into account when assessing the probability of success prior to executing a certain learning task; [VA: actually, it is important to check whether this is really part of the theory, or whether it is part of others' interpretations of the theory]. under this theory, the amount of effort they will expend depends on how likely they think it is that they will be successful and on how much they value the expected outcome. Thus, all else being equal, learners with greater self-efficacy will expend greater effort. Under Zimmerman's (2008) model of self-regulated learning, students' self-efficacy beliefs are a factor influencing their planning process (e.g., goals they set for themselves).

Many studies find that students' self-efficacy beliefs are highly correlated with academic achievement [REFs], as well as with measures of self-regulated learning [REFs].

It is interesting to ask what these correlations may mean. For example, the correlations observed between self-efficacy and academic achievement may mean simply that students are accurate in their beliefs about their own abilities. This interpretation does not assign a causal role to self-efficacy beliefs in achieving better academic outcomes. On the other hand, these correlations could reflect the causal role assigned by expectancy-value theories, as we have seen: self-efficacious students will be more optimistic about their chances of success and therefore will show greater persistence. The success of interventions aimed at helping students make more adaptive attributions of their learning outcomes [REFs] provide some measure of support for such an interpretation. [VA: really? check on this. Also, wouldn't a correlation between self-efficacy and time on task be more direct evidence? Are there papers that document such as relation?] Similarly, one could ask whether the correlations between self-efficacy and use of self-regulation reflect a causal influence of self-efficacy (on greater self-regulation). This correlation could simply reflect the fact that learners who use the strategies have more positive self-efficacy beliefs (possibly, because these strategies led to positive learning results in the past, which in turn led to greater self-efficacy - consistent with Zimmerman's (2008) cyclical model of self-regulated learning). This explanation does not assign a causal role to self-efficacy in self-regulation. On the other hand, this correlation could reflect an indirect causal influence of self-efficacy, for example if greater self-efficacy made the use of certain self-regulatory strategies more likely (i.e., if students, perhaps enthused by a greater expectancy of success, were more likely to apply strategies - in this explanation, self-efficacy has an enabling role). [VA: perhaps the path analysis in the Schunk & Ertmer studies points in this direction?]

What is needed is a way to "manipulate" students' self-efficacy beliefs that does not affect other aspects of their learning. [VA: any studies that do this? attribution retraining comes to mind, or some kind of feedback; perhaps that old Dweck study?][Schunk & Ertmer, 2000]

Sources of self-efficacy beliefs Under attribution theory, students' self-efficacy is influenced heavily by the causes to which they attribute their successes and failures in learning tasks. [REFs] A key way in which learners may increase their self-efficacy is by having successful learning experiences and attributing them to their ability in the domain being studied. Attributing unsuccessful learning experiences to lack of ability, on the other hand, is likely lead to diminished self-efficacy. However, unsuccessful learning experiences do not inevitably lead to diminished self-efficacy, for example when they are attributed to lack of effort rather than lack of ability. [VA: NEED TO CHECK ON THIS STORY] Under expectancy-value theory, students' self-efficacy beliefs are grounded in their prior learning experiences. [VA: Duh. Need something more specific.] Within certain models of self-regulated learning (e.g., Zimmerman, 2008), students' satisfaction with their performance in certain learning tasks is seen as a major source of self-efficacy beliefs. These feelings are in focus especially in a self-reflection phase that follows - in this particular cyclical model - phases of forethought and performance. [VA: after feedback? or self-evaluation?]

Interventions that enhance self-efficacy A number of studies have demonstrated that certain interventions enhance self-efficacy and learning (Schunk & Ertmer, 2000). [VA: need specifics] [Check papers referenced in Zimmerman, 2008 Am Ed Res J.] [VA: need more examples here]

Accuracy of self-efficacy beliefs. (Need to cite some research about how accurate people's self-efficacy beliefs tend to be.) It is generally believed among motivation researchers that underestimating one's capabilities tends to be worse - from a viewpoint of future academic achievement (??? check!) - than overestimating one's capabilities.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

McQuiggan, S., Mott, B., & Lester, J. (2008). Modeling self-efficacy in intelligent tutoring systems: An inductive approach. User Modeling and User-Adapted Interaction, 18(1-2), 81-123.

Pajares, F. (1996). Self-Efficacy beliefs in academic settings. Review of Educational Research, 66(4), 543-578.

Schunk D., & Ertmer P. (2000) Self-regulation and academic learning: Self-efficacy enhancing interventions., In M. Boekaerts, P. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 631-649). San Diego: Academic Press.

Schunk, D. H., Pintrich P. R., & Meece, J. L. (2008). Motivation in education: Theory, research, and applications (3rd Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2008). Investigating self-regulation and motivation: Historical background, methodological developments, and future prospects. American Educational Research Journal, 45(1), 166-183.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Self-efficacy: An essential motive to learn. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25(1), 82– 91.