Self-efficacy theory

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Self-efficacy is the belief in one's effectiveness in performing specific tasks.

"People who regard themselves as highly efficacious act, think, and feel differently from those who perceive themselves as inefficacious. They produce their own future, rather than simply foretell it." Albert Bandura

See also: motivation

Self-efficacy theory is an important component of Bandura's social cognitive theory, which suggests high inter-relation between individual's behavior, environment, and cognitive factors.

Highlights from self-efficacy theory

“For Bandura (1986), the capability that is most "distinctly human" (p. 21) is that of self-reflection, hence it is a prominent feature of social cognitive theory. Through self-reflection, people make sense of their experiences, explore their own cognitions and self-beliefs, engage in self-evaluation, and alter their thinking and behavior accordingly. Of all the thoughts that affect human functioning, and standing at the very core of social cognitive theory, are self-efficacy beliefs, "people's judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances" (p. 391). Self-efficacy beliefs provide the foundation for human motivation, well-being, and personal accomplishment. This is because unless people believe that their actions can produce the outcomes they desire, they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties.” (Pajares, retrieved 20:53, 30 August 2006 (MEST))

“Bandura's (1997) key contentions as regards the role of self-efficacy beliefs in human functioning is that "people's level of motivation, affective states, and actions are based more on what they believe than on what is objectively true" (p. 2). For this reason, how people behave can often be better predicted by the beliefs they hold about their capabilities than by what they are actually capable of accomplishing, for these self-efficacy perceptions help determine what individuals do with the knowledge and skills they have.”(Pajares, retrieved 20:53, 30 August 2006 (MEST))

Bandura's self-efficacy is also a social construct (e.g. can be part of a "class spirit"): “Collective systems develop a sense of collective efficacy group shared belief in its capability to attain goals and accomplish desired tasks. For example, schools develop collective beliefs about the capability of their students to learn, of their teachers to teach and otherwise enhance the lives of their students, and of their administrators and policymakers to create environments conducive to these tasks. Organizations with a strong sense of collective efficacy exercise empowering and vitalizing influences on their constituents, and these effects are palpable and evident.” (Pajares, retrieved 20:53, 30 August 2006 (MEST))

According to Staples et al. (1998), self-efficacy theory suggests that there are four major sources of information used by individuals when forming self-efficacy judgments. In order of strength:

  1. Performance accomplishments: personal assessment information that is based on an individual's personal accomplishments. Previous successes raise mastery expectations, while repeated failures lower them.
  2. Vicarious experience: gained by observing others perform activities successfully. This is often referred to as modeling, and it can generate expectations in observers that they can improve their own performance by learning from what they have observed.
  3. Social persuasion: activities where people are led, through suggestion, into believing that they can cope successfully with specific tasks. Coaching and giving evaluative feedback on performance are common types of social persuasion
  4. Physiological and emotional states. The individual's physiological or emotional states influence self-efficacy judgments with respect to specific tasks. Emotional reactions to such tasks (e.g., anxiety) can lead to negative judgments of one's ability to complete the tasks.

Interest for instruction

According to Bandura Self-regulation strongly depends self-efficacy beliefs. “Perceived self-efficacy influences the level of goal challenge people set for themselves, the amount of effort they mobilize, and their persistence in the face of difficulties. Perceived self-efficacy is theorized to influence performance accomplishments both directly and indirectly through its influences on self-set goals.” Zimmerman et al. (1992: 665)

“Bandura's (1993) social cognitive theory postulates that perceived self-efficacy affects an individual in all aspects of life, including educational experiences. Beliefs about one's competence to successfully perform a task can affect motivation, interest, and achievement. (1996) The higher the perceived efficacy, the higher the goal aspirations people adopt and the firmer their commitment to achieving those goals. Educational activities should foster self-efficacy through the use of social interaction. By doing so, the learning environment is structured to de-emphasize competition and highlight self-comparison of progress to build a sense of self-efficacy and promote academic achievement.” (Peer & McClendon, 2002).

An important assumption of Social Cognitive Theory is that personal determinants, such as forethought and self-reflection, do not have to reside unconsciously within individuals. People can consciously change and develop their cognitive functioning. This is important to the proposition that self-efficacy too can be changed, or enhanced. From this perspective, people are capable of influencing their own motivation and performance according to a model of triadic reciprocality in which personal determinants (such as self-efficacy), environmental conditions (such as treatment conditions), and action (such as practice) are mutually interactive influences. Improving performance, therefore, depends on changing some of these influences.

Pedagogically, the challenge is to 1) get the learner to believe in his or her personal capabilities to successfully perform a designated task, 2) provide environmental conditions, such as instructional strategies and appropriate technology, that improve the strategies and self-efficacy of the learner, and 3) provide opportunities for the learner to experience successful learning as a result of appropriate action.

(Self-Efficacy retrieved 16:08, 31 August 2006 (MEST)])



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  • Kimberly S. Peer and Ronald C. McClendon (2002), Sociocultural Learning Theory in Practice: Implications for Athletic Training Educators, J Athl Train. 2002 Oct - Dec; 37(4 suppl): S-136 - S-140.
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  • Pajares, F., & Schunk, D. H. (2001). Self-beliefs and school success: Self-efficacy, self-concept, and school achievement. In R. Riding & S. Rayner (Eds.), Self-perception (pp. 239-266). London: Ablex Publishing.
  • Staples D. Sandy, John S. Hulland & Christopher A. Higgins, (1998), Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 3 (4). HTML
  • Zimmerman Barry J.; Albert Bandura; Manuel Martinez-Pons (1992). Self-Motivation for Academic Attainment: The Role of Self-Efficacy Beliefs and Personal Goal Setting, American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 29, No. 3. (Autumn, 1992), pp. 663-676. PDF (Access restricted)
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