Service Learning

Improving self efficacy through Service Learning

By February 13, 2020 March 25th, 2021 No Comments

Self-efficacy is an important topic to discuss in terms of a student’s learning ability and their experience within the classroom. From a teaching perspective, it is important to have insight into the concept of self-efficacy and how this may affect your students and their ability to learn. By identifying students with low self-efficacy, you can help them learn by employing a number of different techniques, including service-learning, and ultimately improve their overall schooling experience.

What is self-efficacy and how it affects students?

It is defined as people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, behave and motivate themselves[1].

To simplify this, self-efficacy is the belief in your ability to successfully achieve a specific task. These tasks may include anything from academics, social encounters, physical activities etc.  Within an academic space, it can have an adverse effect on students and their ability to succeed.

Students who struggle to learn inside the classroom often have a low sense of self-efficacy towards academics. These learners believe that they lack the ability to succeed, which manifests itself in different ways. Students will often avoid academics and give up on tasks quickly when they run into a problem or difficulty[2]. They believe that they cannot succeed and that academics will ultimately lead to humiliation and failure.

This further leads itself to a lack of motivation and causes more problems. If students do not believe that they can achieve a task successfully, they will not give their all and will avoid or resist them[3]. The result is that academic achievement is impeded, not because they failed the task, but because they did not believe they could do it, so they do not even try. Other effects of a low sense of self-efficacy include[4]:

  • Students shying away from tasks they view as personal threats
  • Students having low aspirations and weak commitment to the goals they choose to pursue
  • Students who dwell on personal deficiencies and obstacles they will encounter, including all kinds of adverse outcomes, rather than concentrating on how to perform successfully
  • Students who slacken their efforts and give up quickly in the face of difficulties
  • Students who are slow to recover their sense of efficacy following failure or setbacks
  • Students who fall easy victim to stress and depression

Self-efficacy vs self-esteem

Many liken self-efficacy to self-esteem and although both may impact how a student feels about themselves, they are two different concepts.

Self-esteem refers to a person’s sense of value or self-worth. It talks to the extent to which people value, like or appreciate themselves. This differs from self-efficacy, which is generally concerned with the capabilities to execute specific tasks or courses of actions, this outcome may or may not have any bearing on self-esteem. Research has found that self-liking or high self-esteem, does not necessarily mean that there will be a better performance of the tasks[5].

self esteem

How service-learning facilitates self-assurance in learners

To assist students in learning effectively, teachers and the curriculum need to focus on building a sense of self-efficacy to enhance academic, skills and task performance. One of the ways to do this is through service-learning.

Service-learning is a teaching and learning pedagogy that is engaging, motivating and empowering for students when integrated into their curriculum. This approach allows students an opportunity to explore problems in their school or community and develop plans to solve them. It combines both the theoretical and practical, providing students with an experiential learning experience.

Experiential exercises in and out of the school environment have proven to be effective in generating considerable student involvement and participation in the learning process[6]. This ultimately leads to personal growth, development, and an increase in self-efficacy.

The flexible and open learning outcomes associated with service learning allows the educator to set goals with students with low self-efficacy that will be achievable for them. As these students start to succeed and reach the goals, their self-efficacy will increase, leading to a ripple effect on how they approach their studies.

The use of collaboration and teamwork in service-learning also impacts students with low self-efficiency. By changing the medium of instruction and allowing for observation from peers and discussions in groups, the learner may get a better understanding of the subject matter. This allows struggling learners to conceptualize concepts and gain new skills and learning strategies to apply to their own studies[7]. This then increases their belief in themselves, their abilities and motivates them to continue on. It provides the needed motivation to help others due to the collaborative nature of service learning. 

Self-efficacy plays a large role in the way in which students learn and approach academics. Those who struggle will have low self-efficacy and this can be detrimental to their mental state and academic work. Service-learning is a fantastic way to build student’s self-efficacy levels, especially those who are struggling. Through service-learning, educators will be able to enhance student’s self-awareness, provide opportunities to develop global competencies such as empathy, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and reflection. Students are able to identify areas for growth in their goal setting. Participating in service-learning opportunities will positively enhance students personal growth and development, as well as help them believe in themselves and their ability to succeed, while helping the community by making the world a better place.





[1] Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press.

[2] Margolis, P. and McCabe, H., (2006). Improving Self-Efficacy and Motivation: What to Do, What to Say.

Intervention in School and Clinic, 41, No. 4, 218-227.

[3] Margolis, P. and McCabe, H., (2006). Improving Self-Efficacy and Motivation: What to Do, What to Say.

Intervention in School and Clinic, 41, No. 4, 218-227.

[4] Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved July 4, 2011 from [].

[5] L, John, A.M,Lane, A, Kyprianou. (2004). Self-Efficacy, Self-Esteem and Their Impact on Academic Performance. Social Behavior and Personality An International Journal. Society for Personality Research (Inc.). 32(3), 247-256.

[6] Armstrong, S,J & Fukami, C,V. 2009. The Sage Handbook of Management, Education and Development. United States of America, Sage Publishing. PG 43.

[7] Margolis, P. and McCabe, H., (2006). Improving Self-Efficacy and Motivation: What to Do, What to Say.

Intervention in School and Clinic, 41, No. 4, 218-227.

Tara Barton

Tara Barton

Tara brings passion and a deep understanding of service learning, rooted in years of experience, to her training. Her training builds bridges from theory to implementation while generously sharing her resources and knowledge to ensure our success. Tara works with the whole school (administration, teachers, students, and SL leaders) to build a sustainable program that is embedded in the curriculum and tied to the mission. She energized a faculty on a Friday afternoon, no easy feat, leaving them with a desire to learn more about SL and to become more involved. I cannot recommend Tara highly enough.

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