Perceived self-efficacy refers to the context-specific beliefs of people about their ability to successfully produce required levels of performance (Klassen, 2007). Individuals with strong confidence in their efficacy do not avoid difficult tasks and challenges but rather develop an intrinsic interest in challenging situations and attribute failure to an insufficient commitment to their goals. On the other hand, people who are doubtful about their ability to exercise influence over adverse outcomes tend to dwell on their failures and avoid engaging in challenging pursuits.
Unsuccessful efficacy builders are not capable of committing to their goals and often give up quickly in the face of minor setbacks. Because their motivational process hinges on low expectations, they unintentionally reduce the intensity of their efforts and persistence (Bandura 1997).
The development of self-efficacy across all domains of learning plays a key role in the improvement of students’ academic performance. Although self-efficacy is conceptually different from the motivational dimensions of academic performance, it can serve as a powerful predictor of students’ motivation and capacity for learning (Zimmerman, 2000). Indeed, a large body of research indicates that high levels of self-efficacy are associated with a multitude of positive outcomes such as the proclivity for setting higher goals, employing effective learning strategies, and regulating one’s thoughts (Caprara et al., 2008; Pajares & Schunk, 2001; Zimmerman & Kitsantis, 1999).
The aim of this paper is to explore the connection between perceived self-efficacy and motivation for learning. To this end, the paper will examine the extant literature on academic self-efficacy and its dimensions in order to determine whether it is possible to improve academic performance by altering one’s beliefs about one’s own capabilities.
Self-Efficacy and Related Constructs
Self-efficacy is associated with a number of closely related constructs that differ from it on both psychometric and conceptual levels: self-concept, perceived control, and outcome expectations (Zimmerman, 2000). Bandura is the first scholar to study the distinctions between these constructs in his research on reading and writing capabilities (as cited in Zimmerman, 2000). The findings of this important research have shown that perceived self-efficacy is a more effective predictor of the acquisition of writing skill than outcome expectations (Zimmerman, 2000).
Self-concept is an umbrella term that comprises self-knowledge, self-belief, and self-evaluating feelings and can be defined as “a global perception of oneself and one’s self-esteem reactions to that self-perception” (Zimmerman, 2000, p. 84).
Even though the construct has a close connection to self-efficacy, it is not linked to academic performance. Perceived control is a domain-specific construct that refers to one’s belief about one’s ability to control his or her internal states, thereby influencing the external environment. Just like self-concept, perceived control has no bearing on students’ ability to succeed in an academic environment. Bandura’s study has also rebutted the contention that outcome expectations, or an individual’s beliefs about the consequences of his or her behavior, are a causal determinant of motivation and academic success (as cited in Zimmerman, 2000).
Self-Efficacy and Academic Performance
There is a large body of literature pointing to the direct connection between students’ learning outcomes and their perceived levels of self-efficacy. A systematic literature review conducted by Richardson, Abraham, and Bond reveals that of 241 studies, the construct of self-efficacy has been discovered to be “the strongest correlate with university grade point average (GPA) from amongst 50 measures” (as cited in Bartimote-Aufflick, Bridgeman, Walker, Sharma, & Smith, 2015, p. 1920). Another study analyzes the development of 412 Italian students in order to establish a link between self-regulatory efficacy and academic achievement (Caprara et al., 2008).
The findings of the study point to a substantial reduction in self-efficacy as students move from junior high to high schools. The effects of this decline in self-efficacy are the most pronounced for males and are related to their academic achievement.
However, the reduction of self-efficacy levels is only mediationally linked to students’ continuation of their high school education (Caprara et al., 2008). The researchers note that it is especially important to prevent the erosion of students’ beliefs about their learning capabilities because psychosocial changes that are set in motion by such a decline might result in unfavorable lifestyle trajectories. The decline in an individual’s self-efficacy levels foreshadows low academic motivation and the discontinuation of schooling, which in turn might exclude numerous life opportunities (Caprara et al., 2008).
The extant body of literature on the impact of self-efficacy beliefs on academic achievement would not be complete without a systematic review of the 12 years of research conducted by Honicke and Broadbent on the subject (2016). The review makes a great contribution to understanding the motivational variables that drive students’ academic performance because it analyzes the mediating and moderating factors that regulate academic behavior. The research is informed by social cognitive theory, which posits that the interplay of social and internal self-influence factors motivates and controls the behavior of learners (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016).
A meta-analysis of 59 recent studies reveals that there is a positive relationship between academic self-efficacy and academic achievement (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016). In this review, the following mediating factors for academic self-efficacy have been identified: effort regulation, deep processing strategies, family involvement, and goal orientations (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016). Students’ ability to overcome procrastination by regulating their efforts is correlated with their academic performance.
Family involvement is another important moderating factor between academic achievement and self-efficacy, a connection that has been supported by studies conducted by Mega et al. and Weiser and Riggio (as cited in Honicke & Broadbent, 2016).
Furthermore, self-efficacy in an academic context is also positively moderated by factors such as time on task and outcome expectations. Moreover, the positive moderating relationships of cognitive factors like emotional intelligence were discovered by Adeyemo in 2007 (as cited in Honicke & Broadbent, 2016).
At the same time, however, negative emotions and mental states such as neuroticism are known to significantly diminish the academic performance of students. The results of the study also point to the fact that students who have high levels of perceived self-efficacy are more likely to pursue challenging tasks and be more persistent than their counterparts with lower self-efficacy levels. This suggests that “the motivational variable effort regulation” (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016, p. 80) that has been observed in the review functions as a bidirectional feedback loop, in which each element enhances the other’s effects.
The Development of Self-Efficacy
Given the fact that perceived self-efficacy has been shown to affect students’ motivation to study, it is important to explore how an individual’s beliefs about his or her ability to perform a task can be strengthened (Dinther, Dochy, & Segers, 2011). Social cognitive theory posits that students derive their perceptions about self-efficacy from the following sources: “enactive mastery experiences, vicarious (observational) experiences, social persuasions and physiological and psychological states” (Dinther et al., 2011, p. 97).
The most important source of information about one’s self-efficacy comes from enactive mastery experiences, or success stories that provide individuals with first-hand evidence of their ability to overcome obstacles and complete tasks. Students who rely on this kind of self-efficacy information develop a strong sense of personal competence that motivates them and helps them persevere in the face of difficulty. However, it should also be noted that a series of failures can substantially lower students’ beliefs in their ability to succeed (Dinther et al., 2011).
Another source of learners’ self-efficacy beliefs is vicarious experience derived from observing social models. By gaining information about the capabilities of their peers, students can enhance their own feelings of self-efficacy. Individuals with little mastery experience can benefit from this source of information even though its effects are lower than those created by enactive mastery experiences (Dinther et al., 2011).
Social influences or persuasions are the third source of efficacy beliefs. Information that convinces students that they are capable of performing a certain task can reduce their doubts and increase their self-efficacy levels. Such information is the most effective when it is realistic and provided by a significant other (Dinther et al., 2011).
The fourth source of information creating self-efficacy is a student’s emotional and physiological state. There is ample evidence suggesting that “symptoms and feelings such as anxiety, stress reactions, tension, and excitement can be interpreted as signals of failure and debility” (Dinther et al., 2011, p. 98; Pajares & Schunk, 2005). Therefore, perceived self-efficacy levels may be significantly higher when they are assessed when the person is in a positive mood.
It should be noted that self-efficacy is cognitively appraised; therefore, it is not derived directly from these four sources (Dinther et al., 2011). Moreover, cultural beliefs and meaning systems also influence the way self-efficacy information is perceived. For example, people from cultures that put more emphasis on individualism are less affected by social persuasions than those living in collectivistic cultures.
Self-Efficacy Beliefs and Motivation Constructs
Having established that self-efficacy beliefs can be derived from four major sources of influence, it is necessary to explore how motivational processes are influenced by those beliefs. According to Pajares and Schunk (2001), not only do beliefs about one’s capability to perform certain tasks influence motivation, but they also affect the choices that people make. Beliefs of personal competence are instrumental in defining the amount of anxiety people experience as they exercise control over their lives. These beliefs also affect the amount of time individuals spend pursuing certain tasks, the amount of effort they spend, and how resilient they are in the face of obstacles (Pajares & Schunk, 2001).
In other words, beliefs about personal competence are associated with primary motivational processes; Badura goes as far as to say that self-efficacy beliefs “constitute the key factor of human agency” (as cited in Pajares & Schunk, 2001, p. 243).
Research on the beliefs of personal competence and motivation is thriving. Bandura and Schunk, as well as Schunk and Hanson, have demonstrated that self-efficacy beliefs affect academic achievement by enhancing motivation, persistence, and perseverance (as cited in Pajares & Schunk, 2001).
Bouffard-Bouchard, Parent, and Larivèe have discovered that self-regulatory strategies, which are closely related to motivation, are influenced by beliefs of personal efficacy regardless of a student’s level of ability (as cited in Pajares & Schunk, 2001). Prominent scholars in the field of educational psychology have shifted their focus from self-esteem and the building of healthy self-perceptions in students to concentrate more on the theories of academic motivation.
This transition has to do with the fact that “the beliefs that students create, develop, and hold to be true about themselves” (Pajares & Schunk, 2001, p. 240) are primary forces in their motivation to succeed in an academic environment. Graham and Weiner have even noted that “the self is on the verge of dominating the field of motivation” (as cited in Pajares & Schunk, 2001, p. 241). By focusing on the motivational component of academic achievement, Bandura has discovered that the following academic areas are associated with motivation and self-efficacy: the value of particular school subjects, goal orientation, essay writing, mathematics problem solving, and overall GPA (as cited in Usher & Pajares, 2006).
Motivation is also related to self-regulatory skills, which are usually more developed in students with high self-efficacy levels. Unrealistically low self-efficacy beliefs can result in diminished motivation, which is especially true in the area of self-regulation. According to Usher and Pajares (2006), “students who lack confidence in their capability to self-regulate their learning are less likely to implement adaptive strategies, and they will more quickly give up in the face of difficulty” (p. 128).
Given that self-regulatory skills are essential in both an academic environment and the world at large, it can be argued that educators must be able to implement effective interventions to challenge students’ undeservedly low beliefs of personal competence in order to prevent future regulatory crises and promote their adaptive lifelong functioning. When educators notice that their students have low motivation caused by problematic beliefs about personal efficacy, these educators must help the learners develop “a better understanding of their potential to succeed at regulating their own work” (Usher & Pajares, 2006, p. 130). The motivational aspect of self-regulatory goals, and how it is associated with writing, will be discussed in the next section of the paper.
The motivational and self-regulatory dimensions of writing are especially important because writing is a skill that requires a high level of personal discipline and numerous hours of practice. The essential components of writing skills are usually developed in a manner that is socially directed, which is especially true when it comes to the acquisition of goal setting and self-monitoring skills. Writing’s motivational dimension is associated with four levels of regulation, which are similar to the four sources of self-efficacy: observation, emulation, self-control, and self-regulation (Zimmerman & Kitsantis, 1999).
Observation is particularly important in the process of acquiring a domain-specific skill like writing because learners who go through this level of regulation are provided with the vicarious experiences of people who know how to properly execute the skill. According to Zimmerman and Kitsantis (1999), these experiences serve as “vicarious rewards” that function as “a primary source of motivation to sustain personal efforts toward greater mastery” (p. 241). Therefore, it can be said that the observation level of regulation is instrumental to the motivational dimension of writing.
Emulation is the second level of regulation and can be defined as “the adoption of a model’s abstract pattern or style of skill motorically rather than mimicry of individual response components” (Zimmerman & Kitsantis, 1999, p. 242). The acquisition of this level of regulation occurs when learners receive social reinforcement and feedback on their motoric efforts. The emulation level of regulation is also essential to motivation because reinforcement helps students persevere toward mastery. Emulative performance allows learners to get accustomed to new skills, which makes them less daunting.
Self-control is another level of regulation that is acquired when students participate in a planned and structured process of self-monitoring (Zimmerman & Kitsantis, 1999). To become proficient in controlling their behavior when it comes to writing, students have to engage in solitary practice. Such self-directed experiences help learners better regulate their adherence to performance standards that are modeled by their personal representations (Pajares, 1997).
Self-regulation is the highest level of regulation that, when acquired, allows students to adapt their behavior to changing tasks and psychological states. This level is crucial for motivation because students do not have to direct their attention to self-monitoring and can instead concentrate on performance outcomes, thereby maximizing their personal success.
Zimmerman and Kitsantis (1999) argue that the acquisition of these levels of regulation can improve a student’s beliefs of personal competence, “which will sustain his or her motivation toward mastery” (p. 244). A study conducted by Bruning, Dempsey, Kauffman, McKim, and Zumbrunn (2013) also indicates that self-regulation is strongly related to the enjoyment of writing. The researchers suggest that strong self-efficacy beliefs are essential for writing because they help learners to avoid distractions and build writing motivation (Bruning et al., 2013). Furthermore, as learners progress through the four levels of regulation, they achieve some of their hierarchical goals, which allows them to feel immediate satisfaction, rather than delaying gratification until a final outcome is attained (Bruning et al., 2013).
A study by Pajares indicates that beliefs of personal efficacy are a domain-specific construct (as cited in Gaskill and Woolfolk-Hoy, 2002). This finding is crucial when it comes to framing the cognitive aspects of writing in a manner that is most conducive to the attainment of the skill. The work of Zimmerman and associates shows that by directing attention to writing outcomes, it is possible to improve students’ skills as well as their self-efficacy judgments (as cited in Bruning et al. 2013).
The paper has shown that self-efficacy beliefs have a direct bearing on student’s motivation across different domains of activity. It has also helped map beliefs of personal efficacy onto the key processes that underlie successful performance in an academic environment. Positive beliefs of personal competence “facilitate students’ academic engagement, goal-setting, task choice, persistence and effort, intrinsic motivation, strategy use, performance and achievement, and even career selection” (Bong & Skaalvik, 2003, p. 13).
Numerous studies on the impact of self-efficacy beliefs on students’ motivation to learn and continue academic studies also point to the fact that the likelihood of remaining in school is substantially higher for students who do not have unjustifiably low beliefs of personal efficacy (Caprara et al., 2008). Indeed, the role of self-efficacy in motivation can hardly be overestimated because students who do not doubt their capabilities readily participate in a variety of academic activities, study harder, and do not have adverse emotional reactions to challenges.
The influence of self-efficacy beliefs is particularly prominent in writing motivation because this skill hinges on four levels of regulation that are closely related to one’s beliefs about his or her own capabilities: observation, emulation, self-control, and self-regulation. The acquisition of these levels of self-regulation helps students concentrate on performance outcomes instead of constantly directing their attention to self-monitoring.
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