Self Efficacy

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Note: this page is currently under construction. Please do not cite.

Self-efficacy is a person's perception of their own capability to attain certain goals or complete a certain task (Schunk, Pintrich, & Meece, 2008; p. 8). 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 (Weiner). [REF Dweck?] It also features prominently in theories of self-regulated learning [REFs].

The notion of self-efficacy encompasses both students' beliefs related to fairly specific tasks or abilities (e.g., solving linear equations, or even, solving the next learning task as well as students' beliefs related to broader competencies. 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, and self-esteem. 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 [NEED EXAMPLE QUESTIONNAIRE ITEMS). Teacher assessment is sometimes used. Recently, researchers have started to devise ways to automatically measure self-efficacy within computer-based learning environments. For example, Lester, McQuiggan (sp?), Boyer at NC State [REFS] have started to create machine-learned detectors that (unobtrusively and automatically, in real time) detect behaviors that reflect high/low self-efficacy within a serious game. It is still early days for this kind of work; for example, further validation efforts are needed. Nonetheless, these kinds of detectors are 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).

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?]

Effects of self-efficacy beliefs Many studies find that self-efficacy is highly correlated with academic achievement [REFs].

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

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.


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.