Self-Efficacy or Self-Esteem?


Self-efficacy is often confused with global self-esteem. Self-efficacy refers to learners’ beliefs about their abilities in a certain area, such as literacy; global self-esteem refers to how one feels about oneself generally. While there is little evidence that enhancing students’ general self-esteem leads to increases in achievement, self-efficacy in a particular domain—such as education or health—relates positively to outcomes in that domain.

It can be expected that some adults enter literacy education questioning their ability to learn to read and write. Moreover, beliefs about self-efficacy can decrease in middle age and older adulthood, although this tendency may vary among individuals. Such beliefs can be modified, however, through experience with tasks in which realistic goals are set and progress is monitored relative to those goals.

Setting Appropriate Goals

Goals are extremely important in motivating and directing behavior. Adults often have very general ideas about why they need or want to learn to read and write. To motivate persistence and success, instructors need to help learners break down their learning goals into short-term and long-term literacy goals. If learners set near-term goals, not just distant ones, they are much more likely to experience success, which enhances self-efficacy. Supporting learners’ awareness of progress week-by-week can motivate persistence, as learners reach their near-term goals and recognize that these are the path to reaching long-term goals.

There are also different types of goals, the choice of which can influence learning outcomes:

•   When a learner holds a mastery goal, he or she engages with a task in order to improve ability; the goal is to truly master the task. When students hold this type of goal, the point of comparison is the student him- or herself. That is, the student compares his or her present performance to past performance to gauge improvement.

•   When a learner holds a performance-approach goal, the goal is to demonstrate his or her ability relative to others; the students compare their performance to that of other students, with the goal of demonstrating greater competence.

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