As any teacher knows, providing learners with guidelines in cognitive strategies, even with metacognitive skills, is not always enough to ensure that they will learn. Teachers also are often pleasantly surprised to discover that a learner has accomplished a task that they considered to be far too difficult. These situations occur because at the root of all learning is the Self-System. This system is comprised of the attitudes, beliefs and feelings that determine an individual’s motivation to complete a task. The factors that contribute to motivation are: importance, efficacy, and emotions.
When a learner is confronted with a learning task, one of his/her first responses is to determine how important the task is to him/her. Is it something he/she wants to learn or believes he/she needs to learn? Will the learning help him/her accomplish a pre-determined goal?
Efficacy, as defined by a developer of social learning theory, Albert Bandura (1994), refers to people’s beliefs about their ability to accomplish a task successfully. Learners with a high degree of self-efficacy face challenging tasks head-on, with the belief that they have the resources to be successful. These learners become deeply engaged in these tasks, persist at working on the task, and overcome the challenges.
Bandura describes some ways in which learners can develop feelings of self-efficacy. The most powerful way is through successful experiences. The experiences must be neither too difficult nor too easy. Repeated failure undermines self-efficacy, but success at overly simple tasks fails to develop a sense of resilience necessary for persisting at difficult tasks.
Although learners cannot control their emotions related to a learning experience, these feelings have a huge impact on motivation. Effective learners use their metacognitive skills to help them deal with negative emotional responses and take advantage of positive responses. For example, a learner with a negative emotional feeling about reading technical materials could decide to read his/her chemistry textbook when heshe is exceptionally alert, rather than just before he/she goes to sleep at night.
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