A serious look at self-efficacy:
or waking Beeping Slooty!
A version of this article was published in a regular
column in Good Teacher in 1995
Has learning has been sleeping partner while we've focussed
In the last issue I suggested that, far from being redundant,
there is convincing research evidence demonstrating that highly
skilled teachers are even more necessary if we are to achieve
technology-enhanced learning (distance or otherwise) rather than
just the enjoyable use of technology in classrooms.
If anyone is going to wake Beeping Slooty, it will be real teachers
in real classrooms.
If we want to encourage a focus on learning (technology-enhanced
or otherwise) we need to look at what we mean by learning. This
can seem so obvious that few of us make time to do it.
When last did you, as a school staff, devote any inservice time
to thrashing out what exactly you mean by learning, what exactly
you expect students to do when-they learn, etc? It is surprisingly
hard to get behind the warm fuzzy cliches and politcally sensitive
wishful thinking. It takes time, and shared professional effort.
And teachers' time and energy are the most precious resources
in schools at the moment. It is not going to be handed down from
Academics On High. However, if we see ourselves as being in the
business of learning, rather than the business of teaching, is
it worth the time and effort?
There are at least two prerequisites for self-regulated information
literacy learning, independence and motivation.
Independence does not necessarily mean working alone.
It means being able to work independently, individually or in
a group. Nor does independence mean teacher-free. A critical factor
in learning to learn independently is the scaffolding (procedures,
structures, skills guidance, etc) provided by the teacher.
"Go to the library and look it up"-type projects are an abrogation
of the teacher's responsibility, not an opportunity for self-regulated
learning unless the teacher is assured that students have the
structures, skills, self-monitoring and evaluative processes in
place to set them up for success.
Motivation seems like an easy one - the desire to learn.
Sure, but what lies behind a desire to learn? Two crucial components
of learning motivation are self-esteem and self-efficacy.
They are related and complementary. Before I started my research
I didn't think they were synonymous, but I could not have explained
their difference in terms that had consequences for how students
can be helped to learn. Now I see the distinction as crucial.
Self-efficacy, in brief, differs from self-esteem insofar
as self-efficacy relates to your belief that you have the skills
and competencies to do something. Learners can have robust self-esteem
but, if asked, can admit happily that they don't actually have
the skills and ability to do the task at hand. Conversely, learners
may well have the required skills and competencies to do something,
but if they don't have the confidence that they can, they
probably won't even if they could!
This is where we get back to the relationship between teaching
and learning. Giving students the conceptual and literal vocabulary
to discuss their learning in terms of the skills and processes
they need to achieve particular learning goals is an integral
part of self efficacy, and self efficacy is an integral part of
Simply, helping children to develop positive self-esteem is admirable,
but it is not enough if we are talking about confident,
independent, flexible, self-regulated learners equipped for lifelong
learning in an age of information.
Likewise, access to information technology is shown to increase
student self-esteem (temporarily). Access to computers has not
yet, by itself, demonstrated an increase in self-efficacy in terms
of making effective use of the information contained in or purveyed
through the technology.
The bottom line in self efficacy is OWNERSHIP.
Do you actually own something if you don't know what it's called,
don't know how it works, don't know whether you have it and can't
describe how you use it? It's probably a bit like getting rich
without knowing anything about money? There is no doubt that some
children do learn skills through direct out-of context teaching,
through osmosis, through plugging themselves into computers with
intravenous drips, or through intuition - but there are many,
many more children for whom the link between teaching and learning
needs to be made much more explicit.