Posted by: Allyson Hadwin | March 16, 2011

Know Thy(Self-Efficacy): The Basics

Know Thy(Self-Efficacy)!

Defining Self-Efficacy

Although definitions vary depending on who you’re asking, the consistent feature of self-efficacy is an expectation about one’s ability to achieve. It is important to stress here that self-efficacy is not itself an ability, but rather a perception of one’s capabilities. Achievement can be framed in terms of a goal, a task, a confrontation, etc. This means that high and low self-efficacy is derived from context, and particularly by the learner inferring about a number of factors from said context (i.e., interest, prior success, support). Individuals with a solidified sense of self-efficacy in some particular realm tend to:

  • Challenge themselves
  • Be intrinsically motivated
  • Process tasks at a deeper level
  • Engage with a greater degree of persistence and effort
  • Approach novel situations with greater optimism.

Because this blog is tailored to academia, this is the “realm” we will be focused on. Research has found that high self-efficacy is linked both directly and indirectly to academic success, while low self-efficacy can produce self-fulfilling prophecies by prompting avoidance behaviours.
Consider the following example:

Here’s Sally. Sally is a “A” student: she completes her homework on time, is not afraid to ask questions, and perseveres in the face of challenge. When Sally was returned her latest social studies quiz, she was surprised to find that she’d been graded a “B.” How do you think Sally would react if she really did have a secure sense of self-efficacy? Would she:

A. Blame her teacher for the grade. (“You must have been over-tired when you were marking my assignment!”)
B. Give up on history altogether. (“I’m clearly not smart enough for this subject and I’ll never succeed!”)
C. Ask her teacher where she made errors and bear them in mind for the next pop quiz. (“I want to be clear on where I went wrong so I can prevent the dreaded “B” in the future!”)

It should come as no surprise that the correct answer is C. Because self-efficacy is all about having confidence in your expectations for achievement, this response demonstrates that Sally is aware that there are obstacles to success (both internal and external), but that it is critical not to become overly discouraged. Rather, these obstacles ought to be perceived as learning experiences in and of themselves.

Before we embed this term in the context of SRL, click here to complete a quick survey and get a glimpse into your own perceived sense of self-efficacy.

Self-Efficacy and Motivation

Although the connection wasn’t explicit, the example with Sally above touches on the unique relationship between self-efficacy and motivation. As was touched on in the narrated PowerPoint, motivation (loosely defined as activating goal-directed behaviour) is a container for self-efficacy. Having confidence in yourself is but one factor that feeds into an increased motivation to achieve a goal.

Continuing with Sally’s example, we see that partly because she has not forgone her academic self-efficacy (that is, she still believes she is a capable student), she is motivated to set a goal (mastery of the subject so as not to receive another “B”) and work towards bringing that goal to life.

In their model of SRL, Winne and Hadwin posit that all behaviour that is not reflexive (i.e., breathing) is motivational. Therefore, motivation – and thus self-efficacy – is both a product and condition of SRL, which leads us into our final overarching term.

Self-Efficacy and Self-Regulated Learning

Winne and Hadwin’s model of self-regulated learning postulates that the learning process is dynamic, recursive, and ongoing. Learners remain actively engaged through the four main elements of the model: task understanding (knowing what is expected of you); goal setting and planning (creating goals and standards to measure your learning against); strategy selection and implementation (choosing what you think will work best to meet your goal(s)); and monitoring and adaptation (revisiting the process and making changes either on the fly or in future scenarios). It is important to note that monitoring is not considered the “final” step but rather, because the process is dynamic in nature, something that occurs and can inform changes at all ‘stages.’

So what is the common denominator here? …YOU!

We have already linked self-efficacy to motivation, so why not take it one step further. Consider for a moment the following metaphoric image:

As we move through the various terms, a pattern emerges: each new concept tends to host or contain those discussed previously. Although this image does not completely do the relationships justice (as there is a bidirectional influence between constructs; for example,see Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons, 1990), this may be a helpful tool for conceptualization.

Remember Sally? Well, because Sally has chosen to take the “high route” and learn from her mistakes instead of accepting defeat, we have already identified she is drawing from a reserve of motivation that will propel her towards success. Self-regulation is even at play here, as Sally is metacognitively aware of her abilities and context and will continue to monitor her progress towards the goals she sets and the strategies she implements to secure herself an “A” in history.

Now that you’ve got a handle on what SEaSRL is all about, click here for tips and strategies to put all this theory to use!


Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V.S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71 – 81). New York: Academic Press.

Ferla, J., Valcke, M., & Schuyten, G. (2010). Judgements of self-perceived academic competence and their differential impact on students’ achievement motivation, learning approach, and academic performance. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 25(4), 519 – 536.

Margolis, H., & Mccabe, P.P. (2006). Improving self-efficacy and motivation: What to do, what to say. Intervention in School and Clinic, 41, 218 – 227.

Winne, P., & Hadwin, A. (1998). Studying as self-regulated engagement in learning. In D. Hacker, J. Dunlosky, & A. Graesser (Eds.), Metacognition in Educational Theory and Practice (pp. 277 – 304). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Winne, P., & Hadwin, A. (2008). The weave of motivation and self-regulated learning. In D. H. Schunk & B. J. Zimmerman (Eds.), Motivation and Self-regulated learning: Theory, Research and Applications (pp. 298-314). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum

Zimmerman, B.J., & Martinez-Pons, M. (1990). Student differences in self-regulated learning: Relating grade, sex, and giftedness to self-efficacy and strategy use. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(1), 51 – 59.


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