Motivational Theory and Self-Efficacy

Motivation is the force that drives a person to do something. It includes varying emotions such as: initiative, drive, intensity, and persistence; that inhibit, neutralize, or promote goal-directed behaviors.

It is internal.

Students may choose to learn or escape from learning. If they choose to be active in school and learn, they have a belief in their efficacy to learn and the power of knowing. They are ready to learn.

If they have a belief that they are incapable of learning and powerless to change, they will choose not to be actively involved, or withdraw, and their learning and performance is reduced.

In actuality people are somewhere between these two extremes, represented by the line between the arrows in the diagram:

image helpless to self-efficacy

Outstanding teachers use interactions that invite, encourage, and assist students to set and achieve goals as ways to motivate student participation. Teachers achieve this through manipulating the environment and assisting students in new learning experiences. This is achieved by challenging students with a learning experience, maintaining high expectations, assisting students to resolve conflicts and to achieve success. Students' involvement is crucial and degrees of involvement are illustrated in the following model.

image for involvement

Learning is an integral part of our total body and brain's physiology. This physiology is controlled not only by the intellectual responses a person is capable of making, but the perceptual and emotional responses that are subconscious and may be beyond the control of the conscious mind. However, both conscious and subconscious events influence our actions or inactions. Responses which are not singular in nature, but more like an explosion that ripples changes throughout the body creating internal changes that inititate and accompany external observable behaviors.

The point is, we must recognize that what appears as a simple external response is accompanied by internal chemical and neurological responses that have been constructed by each of us individually over our lifetime starting with the genetic material inherited from our parents and its interactions with our environment even before our conception. These interactions, both positive and negative, have created the individual we are over our lifetime. As teachers we will find some students more acceptable to change than others. To understand the influences on what motivates change let's consider variables from a couple of theories and a model.cover Choice Theory

William Glasser, in Choice Theory, identified what he believes are five variables that influence the choices people make:

  1. love,
  2. power,
  3. freedom,
  4. fun, and
  5. survival.

Book cover Moral SenseJames G. Wilson, in Moral Sense, identified what he believes are four variables that influence the moral decisions people make:

  1. sympathy,
  2. fairness,
  3. self-control, and
  4. duty.

Students will engage in an activity or attempt to learn a behavior they value or feel is worthwhile and believe they can be successful. As they participate in similar learning experiences they establish an understanding of their ability, which they will use to judge how their participation in future activities will unfold and the likelihood of their the consequences of their actions. This perception is self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy can be understood by considering attributes that contribute to the perception of success or failure to achieve goals. The following flow chart shows how attributes can affect self-efficacy and self-confidence. (adapted from M. Kay Alderman, 1990).

flow chart attributes of motivation image

Goal setting and self monitoring plays an important part in cultivating self-motivation (Bandura, 1986) and self-efficacy. When students first encounter a task they consider what their goal will be.

Through self-talk and self-monitoring students decide goals while anticipating their success or failure based on their ability, effort, the difficulty of the task, or the luck they feel they might have while attempting the task. Their anticipation of success or failure is based on these variables.

If they anticipate failure, they may reason the failure to be attributed to: lack of ability, lack of effort, difficulty of the task or bad luck based on illogical reasons. What they believe contributes to their failure or success determines how they approach a task. If they believe success or failure requires effort and they lacked effort, then they might set a different goal requiring less effort or increase their effort to achieve the same goal. If they attribute success or lack of success on the strategies they used, they might seek and select a new strategy or give up believing they are incapable of using the strategy successfully.

A motivational theory and attribution model can be used to understand student's reasons for success and failure to make better choices to assist students in setting goals, selecting learning strategies, and positively affecting students' motivation.

Reason and Reasoning Related to Success and Failure

Suggestions to motivate, set goals, and develop self-efficacy

Behaviors related to motivation, goal setting, and self-efficacy
Mastery oriented Self-limiting
Productive accomplishments and performances Counter productive
Confident Doubt
Optimistic Pessimistic
Self-efficacy Confusion, unambitious, avoidance, unwilling to attempt or try, with draw, weak, anxiety, believe in luck
Goal oriented Care free, lackadaisical
Constructive Destructive
Effort Lack of effort
Persistent Not persistent


Procedure to model and achieve self-efficacy

Procedure for achieving self regulation

Self-regulation requires fore thought, reflection, co-regulation through observation, imitation, and self-control through behaviors such as:

Procedure for setting and achieving goals

Four steps of goal setting

  1. Focus
  2. Set goal
  3. Select and implement
  4. Monitor and adjust

Four step goal setting procedure

  1. Focus on the situation and recognize a need for change. See change
  2. Set goal
    • Select a goal by gathering and analyzing appropriate information for a variety of options and their consequences. See decision making process
    • State the goal clearly.
    • Check to see if the goal is realistic and attainable.
  3. Select effective strategies and make a plan with a procedure to implement and achieve the goal.
  4. Monitor, evaluate, and reflect on the plan and its implementation and make adjustments as necessary.


See also maladaptive behaviors and work inhibition


Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes &