Why Self-Efficacy is Critical to Learning

Why do some students rise up to face challenges and find ways to overcome them, while others tend to give up in defeat? Much research shows that self-efficacy plays a critical role in this dynamic. Learn why this construct is so important for learning and how it impacts students’ success in school and beyond.

Closely related to academic confidence, self-efficacy is rooted in Badura’s social cognitive theory and is the degree to which a student feels capable of successfully performing school-related tasks. Numerous studies reveal a strong correlation between self-efficacy and academic performance. Research shows that when students believe they are capable of achieving an academic task, they are far more likely to persist and overcome challenges to successfully perform the assignment.

On the other hand, when students lack the confidence in their ability to perform a task or overcome a challenge, they are more likely give up and may even go out of their way to avoid the assignment.

Below lare some common behaviors of students with high and low levels of self-efficacy:

Strong Self-Efficacy Behaviors

  • Consider problems/obstacles as challenges to overcome rather than threats to avoid
  • Will more likely try difficult material and keep working until they master the content
  • Tend to develop a deeper interest in learning and persevering
  • View negative feedback constructively and quickly recover from setbacks

Weak Self-Efficacy Behaviors

  • Tend to avoid challenging tasks out of fear of failure
  • Often believe challenging tasks/material are beyond their capabilities
  • May focus on personal shortcomings rather than constructive ways to overcome challenges
  • Take constructive feedback negatively and give up more easily and lose confidence when encountered with setbacks

Research indicates that self-efficacy can effectively predict students’ future academic performance, and some studies show that this construct has stronger predictive power than other non-cognitive skills.

Beyond K-12 education, additional studies show that self-efficacy plays a deep role in success in college and career choice. Students with high levels of confidence consider a wider range of occupations and are more likely to attempt and complete higher education and difficult training programs.

The good news is that self-efficacy is a malleable trait that can be measured and taught. Effective SEL programming and assessments can foster self-efficacy in students, which can improve academic motivation, learning, and achievement.

Contact our SEL advisors to learn more about the important role of self-efficacy and how the DESSA can fit into your school’s strategic SEL plan.


Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: Freeman.

Stankov, L., Morony, S. & Lee, Y.P. (2014). Confidence: The best non-cognitive predictor of academic achievement? Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology, 34(1), 9-28.

Multon, K. D., Brown, S. D., & Lent, R. W. (1991). Relation of self-efficacy beliefs to academic outcomes: A meta-analytic investigation. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38, 30–38. doi: 10.1037//0022-0167.38.1.30

Schunk, D. H., & Pajares, F. (2009). Self-efficacy theory. In K. R. Wentzel & A. Wigfield (Eds.), Handbook of motivation at school (pp. 35–53). New York, NY: Routledge.

Betz, N. E. (1989). Implications of the null environment hypothesis for women’s career development and for counseling psychology. Counseling Psychologist, 17, 136-144.

Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance [Monograph]. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45, 79-122.