Monday, September 19, 2011

Beyond IQ Series #14: "I know I can"--Importance of academic self-efficacy for learning

Current MACM Series Installment

This is the 14th installment in the Beyond IQ series. This installment defines academic self-efficacy and lists a variety of implications for learning. [All installments in this series (and other related posts and research) can be found by clicking here].

Academic Self-Efficacy: Definition and Conceptual Background

A person’s confidence in their ability to organize, execute, and regulate performance in order to solve a problem or accomplish a task at a designated level of skill and ability. Academic self-efficacy refers to a person's conviction that they can successfully achieve at a designated level in a specific academic subject area.

Individuals typically select tasks and activities in which they feel competent and avoid those in which they do not. Students who are confident in their capability to organize, execute, and regulate their problem-solving or task performance at a designated level of competence are demonstrating high self- efficacy. Self-efficacy is generally regarded as a multidimensional construct differentiated across multiple domains of functioning. The construct of self-efficacy helps explain the finding that the behavior of individuals is not always accurately predicted from their capability to accomplish a specific task. How a person believes they will perform is often more important. Academic self-efficacy refers to an individual's belief (conviction) that they can successfully achieve at a designated level on an academic task or attain a specific academic goal (Bandura, 1997; Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Elias & Loomis, 2002; Gresham, 1988; Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2002a; Schunk & Pajares, 2002).

Academic self-efficacy is grounded in self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1977). According to self- efficacy theory, self-efficacy is an “individual’s confidence in their ability to organize and execute a given course of action to solve a problem or accomplish a task” (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002, p. 110). Self-efficacy theory suggests that academic self-efficacy may vary in strength as a function of task difficulty—some individuals may believe they are most efficacious on difficult tasks, while others only on easier tasks. Furthermore, self-efficacy is believed to be situational in nature rather than being viewed as a stable trait (Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2002a). Students make reliable differentiations between their self-efficacy judgments across different academic domains which, collectively, form a loose hierarchical multidimensional structure. Self- efficacy should not be confused with self-esteem or self- concept. Self-efficacy is a task-specific evaluation while self-esteem and self-concept reflect more general affective evaluations of self (Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2002a).

Causally, self-efficacy is believed to effect performance via the influence on task perceptions. For example, research suggests high self-efficacy creates a feeling calmness or serenity when approaching difficult tasks while low self-efficacy may result in an individual perceiving a task as more difficult than reality, which, in turn, may create anxiety, stress and a narrower idea on how best to approach the solving of a problem or activity (Eccles, 2005). It is further believed that an individual's interpretation of a successfully completed mastery experience is important to the development of high self-efficacy as individuals use these interpretations to develop perceptions that they then act in concert with. Research also suggest that vicariously observing others perform tasks can facilitate the development of self-efficacy, particularly when individuals are uncertain regarding their abilities or specific tasks and they perceive similar attributes with the observed model.

Two general categories of academic expectancy beliefs have been postulated. Academic outcome expectations are a student’s beliefs that specific behaviors will lead to certain outcomes (e.g., “If I do homework my grades will improve”). Academic efficacy expectations are a student’s beliefs in their ability to perform the necessary behaviors to produce a certain outcome (e.g., “I have enough motivation to study hard for this test”). Understanding the difference between these 2 forms of expectancy beliefs is important as “individuals can believe that a certain behavior will produce a certain outcome (outcome expectation), but may not believe they can perform that behavior (efficacy expectation)” (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002, p. 111).

Academic Self-Efficacy: Implications

The self-efficacy research literature (Bong &Skaalvick, 2003; Eccles, 2005; Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Elias & Loomis, 2002; Gresham, 1988; Prout, Marcal, &Marcal, 1992; Schunk & Pajares, 2002; Wentzel, 1999) suggests the following general implications:

Of all the “self” constructs, self-efficacy may be the most important and powerful for predicting and explaining specific behavior and outcomes. Research has demonstrated that self-efficacy is associated with a broad range of positive outcomes, including academic achievements ( r's = .49 to .70), athletic performance, social skills, career choices and aspirations, work performance, efficient study habits, pain tolerance, coping with feared events, and recovery from heart attacks. Eccles (2005) has reported that self-efficacy may account for 25 % of achievement variance above and beyondthe effects of instructional practices.

Academic self-efficacy has a significant causal influence on academic motivation, learning, and achievement vis-à-vis a student’s effort, cognitive engagement, use of self-regulatory strategies, goal setting and pursuit, adoption of a learning goal orientation, higher intrinsic motivation, persistence, self-esteem, and expectation of future success.

It is hypothesized that the predictive power of self-efficacy stems from the fact that it is a relatively narrow and pure construct that does not include the intermixing of other “self” constructs (e.g., competence, esteem). Instead of focusing on a global or omnibus view of self, self-efficacy focuses on more circumscribed self-processes (e.g., self-regulation). As a result, research has found that it is easier to change a student’s self-efficacy toward specific academic domains than it is to change a student’s general self- concept.

Students who doubt their ability to successfully complete a task often participate less readily, do not work as hard, and give up quickly when faced with difficulty. Due to repeated failures in the classroom, it is hypothesized that students with disabilities may feel that they cannot adequately perform certain behaviors and tasks to achieve a desired outcome. The resultant negative outcome may be lower academic self-efficacy, which in turn, can generalize to low effectance motivation, feelings of learned helplessness, and difficulties in peer acceptance and interpersonal relationships.

Although important for academic performance, positive self-efficacy by itself will not produce competent performance in the absence of prerequisite skills and knowledge (Wentzel, 1999). If a student anticipates failure due to a lack of abilities and skills (a negative outcome expectation), they are less likely to engage in the learning activities.

A student’s initial sense of academic self-efficacy develops largely via a function of prior learning experiences and perceived ability on similar tasks. Academic self-efficacy is subsequently refined through continued success and/or failure on similar tasks and feedback from the environment (e.g., adults, other students). The early years of academic learning are critical; once a specific domain of academic self- efficacy beliefs are developed, they can be difficult to change.

Success (vs repeated failure) strengthens self-efficacy. Other variables associated with increased positive self-efficacy are peer social models, near-term (proximal) and attainable learning goals, self-regulatory strategy instruction, rewards contingent on performance, tasks calibrated to the student’s instructional level, and evaluative feedback and verbal persuasive communication from a credible other.

Learning environments characterized by high levels of student competition, norm and social-referenced grading, and less emphasis on individual attributional effort-based progress feedback have been associated with detrimental effects on self-efficacy, particularly among low achieving students. Almost all of these instructional and environmental variables share a common focus of providing information to the student about their abilities and progress.

Positive and caring learning environments that provide accurate feedback and praise (vs inaccurate and superfluous praise) foster the development of accurate self-efficacy beliefs. As students move through the school grades, they become more accurate in their self- assessments vis-à-vis repeated task experience and normative peer comparisons. Furthermore, classrooms that allow for extensive social comparisons (with the performance of other students) tend to lower self-efficacy of students whose performances are viewed as deficient when compared to others. In college populations, students with disabilities may report academic self-efficacy equal to or higher than students without disabilities. Blake and Rust (2002) hypothesized that this finding may be a function of the nature of their university sample which was characterized by students with more severe disabilities. The authors hypothesized that these students had historically been unable to hide their disabilities and, thus, may have learned to be more open about their capabilities during their formative years. In addition, the sample was small (n=44) and may represent a select group of students with disabilities (i.e., those with higher skills and abilities).

Research suggests that parents are influential in the development of academic self-efficacy. In general, higher self-efficacy has been linked to parents who provide a warm, supportive and responsive environment that stimulates exploration, curiosity and that allows for mastery experiences. In addition, parents can serve as vicarious role models vis-a-vis the modeling of appropriate methods for coping with difficult tasks and by displaying task persistence.

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