I have written a lot about educational efficacy in my books, but in this article, we will focus specifically on what it means in the post-compulsory education sector, and how you can nurture the educational efficacy of your students.
When most educators or regulators assess the effectiveness of training and education programs, they tend to focus on the just skills and knowledge outcomes.
However, there is a more powerful, life-impacting criteria that most education providers (from sole-trading Trainers to international higher education institutions) are completely missing out of the assessment of their educational effectiveness.
Truly successful training programs produce more than competent students; they build efficacious people. That is people who have strong faith in their capability to repeatedly produce desired results in that subject area.
This means more than making a student good at something, it means giving them unwavering confidence in autonomously executing the skills and competencies that the training aimed to engender.
Whether we realise it or not, we are ALWAYS influencing confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy. If education providers choose to ignore this, then they could, in fact, be compromising the learning experience; and their own success, too.
In this article, we will explore ways in which you can ensure that your training programs give your learners the results that really matter – whether you are teaching the public as students, or running internal professional development programs for your staff.
How can we build educational efficacy?
According to Albert Bandura, a significant researcher in self-efficacy, there are four major ways that we can increase our learners’ self-efficacy:
This is the most powerful efficacy influencer of all. When we experience ‘mastery’, we are learning from our own direct experiences.
By creating training that allows our students to frequently attempt a task and experience success from those efforts, they will start to believe that they are subsequently good at that task – thus increasing their motivation and efficacy in the topic. This will encourage them to explore the topic at a greater depth, and take bigger learning risks, ultimately developing them into a ‘master’ with comprehensive skills and knowledge.
When we witness others succeed, we are experiencing success vicariously.
If we can see that other people are successful – especially if we consider ourselves to be similar to those who we see winning, it makes us feel confident that success for ourselves is possible – and as such are more likely to expect to succeed in a similar situation, too.
Just as a negative comment can decrease self-efficacy, positive comments, when said with conviction, genuineness and credibility, can boost a learner’s efficacy.
Providing regular and evidence-based feedback on performance and progress, as well as verbal praise and recognition of what they have done well, our students’ self-efficacy is prime to increase.
The way our courses and programs are delivered can affect your learners’ self-efficacy. Excitement, enthusiasm and happiness are all contagious emotions that are completely cost-free to any trainer or educator, whether face to face or online. Pay attention to the learning environment that your own mood and delivery style are creating – energy may not necessarily always be ‘seen’ but it certainly can be felt.
12 ways to increase student educational efficacy in your training and education programs:
- Responses, Communication and Connection are Critical
This requires a careful balancing act. Our students come to us for our expertise – and so many educators feel that they must dramatically overcompensate on the content they provide to ensure that they have proven that ‘they know their stuff’.
We must be careful to not provide unnecessarily long and over-complicated content or answers to learner questions when simplicity will suffice but to simultaneously ensure that we are sufficiently challenging them too.
Paying attention to the way that we respond to our learners so that we provide them with information that is not self-glorifying, over-complicated or patronising – as well as respectful, acknowledging and person-centred is critical to developing learner efficacy.
- Create a Collaborative Learning Environment
A study by Fencl and Scheel found that “collaborative learning showed a positive correlation with increased self-efficacy”. The same study also showed that question and answer, conceptual problems and inquiry lab activities as teaching methods also increased learner self-efficacy. This is because having the sense of ‘back up’ that comes with the ‘strength in numbers’ associated with group learning is affirming and reassuring for many learners.
Adult learners acquire a great deal of knowledge, alternative perspectives and skills from each other, as well as discover that they are ‘not alone’ in aspects of their topical understanding or life experiences, which brings them comfort, belongingness and growth in efficacy.
- Never Compare Students to Each Other
Everyone learns at their own pace, so what might be a huge step forward for one student could be a minute progression for another. A sure way to make the majority of the class lose their educational efficacy is to compare them to the highest achievers. Instead, it is much better to use an ipsative approach to assessment. This means assessing students from their own starting point.
Create ‘Likert Scale’ assessments which consist of statements formed from the learning objectives of the course. The students read each statement and rate themselves on a scale of 1-5 as to how much they agree with or are like that statement at the beginning of the course. They then complete the same assessment at the end, showing a quantifiable measure of their own progress as a result of the training. This then focusses the learner’s attention on how they are improving against their own starting point and increasing their own ‘personal best’, rather than against the standards and performance of somebody else.
- Balance Challenges and Wins
Your training should be hard enough for your learners to feel a true sense of victory when they complete it, but not so hard that it makes them frequently feel incompetent. You also want to make sure that little wins come often, but not so easily that it is condescending to their intelligence.
If it was all hard, they would give up. If it was all easy, they’d feel like the program was a waste of time. Adding interspersed moments of easy wins with challenges is a great way to get learners engaged, with constant opportunity to feel their abilities shifting as they progress through the program. Ensure that you have an explicitly clear program outline, learning outcomes and even entry-requirements so that you are setting the right people up for the best possible learning experience.
- Include Co-operative Learning
A study by Albert Bandura showed that in learning experiences where learners work together and communicate as a team on educational activities, their educational efficacy increased. This is because when students work in a non-competitive manner, they see how they are similar (or even better) than their partner. Whereas, in competitive situations, they are forced to see where they lack in comparison to those they are working ‘against’.
Even in the online course realm, there are many ways that you can encourage cooperative learning. With technology freely available such as online forums, video conferencing, Skype, Facetime and live video streaming freely available, it is easy to get learners working collaboratively on your education programs.
- Set Clearly Defined, Short Term Goals
A fundamental human need is to feel we have a sense of control over our circumstances so that we can predict and prepare – ultimately protecting ourselves from danger. Setting short term goals is one way to provide your students with a predictable expectation and subsequently a sense of comfort and power about what is coming. This observation is backed by Schunck and Pajares who suggest that setting short-term goals, that are challenging yet attainable, will help increase the efficacy of our learners.
- Facilitate Verbal Self-Reporting
Sometimes when we are busy in the throes of daily life, we can feel like we are not progressing when in fact we have made significant progress. When we stop to intentionally analyse the space between ‘then and now’, and then verbalise that progress with others, it reinforces our success and subsequently increases our efficacy and sense of ability to achieve that task. In your online courses, have regular check-stops where you get learners to share their progress with the rest of the group.
- Avoid Rigid Teaching Techniques
A highly rigid and single-mode of content presentation can be counterproductive to the learning experience. Although it is easy for students to be able to predict what will happen next, it will prove restrictive and limiting to maximum learner engagement as the learning process should be a little more flexible and fluid.
By providing multiple ways that learners can consume the content and engage with their learning, you are opening up the training to meet the needs of multiple learning preferences, and subsequently increasing engagement along with the chances of success.
- Limit Total Flexibility
Despite the need for flexibility, we also do not want completely loose and undefined methodologies. Just like how having too many shopping choices in a supermarket can cause ‘buyers paralysis’, when learners have a limitless option of pathways, tools, strategies and choices, their brains can quite literally freeze. A simple lack of decision-making, caused by too many choices, can be detrimental to efficacy.
- Play on Student’s Passions
People are always better and more successful at things that they are passionate about. If we design our training to allow our learners to bring their passions, hobbies and interests into their learning, efficacy can be significantly increased.
If the learner loves something, it means that they are already familiar with it, feel empowered by it and enjoy it. If we can combine the most challenging parts of our training with the learners’ passions, we will see less resistance, higher efficacy and greater completion rates in our courses.
- Give Students Power
This aligns somewhat to the self-directed principle of adult learning, as well as to the concept that ‘we are happier when we feel in control’. If you can allow your learners to have some degree of influence over their learning program, their feeling of control will increase their efficacy, which will subsequently enhance their overall experience of the program and ongoing sense of mastery in a learning environment.
For example, this could include allowing them to choose from three different ways of being assessed, such as a multiple-choice test, a written essay or a project submission. They could choose whether they work on a project alone or in a group. There is no limit to how you could apply this concept in your training courses.As long as you find a way to give your learners a taste of control over their learning, they will increase their educational efficacy in your course.
- Assign Failure Appropriately
Failure is not a word I like to use in education. ‘Failure’ is a result of the measures of competence that are being used, not necessarily a lack of development in the student. However, if a learner is underperforming or fails in your training program, their self-efficacy will immediately drop because they feel as though they are incompetent. You can reduce this risk by communicating with the learner that the failure is due to a lack of action or implementation, not the existence of incompetence or “stupidity.”
People don’t internalise failure when they can attribute it to simply not doing something. However, if they feel like they are flawed in terms of intelligence or skill, their efficacy and motivation will suffer.
As educators, we must remember that the way we teach is as important as what we teach, and that the measure of success and effectiveness of a training program usually comes down to less tangible, but far greater impacting results than what make their way onto the assessment criteria. Build your students’ educational efficacy and they’ll keep learning forever.