by Suzanne E. Hiller

There are many factors or variables that are applicable to research studies that measure the impact of outdoor activities. These variables can range from environmental attitudes, behavior, and conservation efforts to achievement. However, there are many other constructs which help to gauge how working in authentic outdoor activities influence the learners’ development, such as interest, outcome expectations, and self-efficacy (Cleary et al., 2019).

The way in which a learner perceives how well they can accomplish a task is known as self-efficacy. This factor is an essential self-motivational belief which impacts how a student approaches the process of obtaining their goals (Bandura, 1989), and relates to career goals for children and adolescents (Bandura et al., 2001). In research, self-efficacy tends to be strongly correlated with achievement measures and is relatable to specific tasks (Schunk & Pajares, 2005). When researchers create self-efficacy measures, it is imperative that survey items directly align with the tasks/skills which are part of the research study. For instance, Hiller and Kitsantas (2016) created the Citizen Science Self-Efficacy Scale to analyze self-efficacy for scientific observation skills. Many communities are integrating gardening and healthy eating programs as part of the school day. Soldavini et al. (2022) measured self-efficacy related to healthy eating practices, as another example.

Examining sources of self-efficacy is a particularly useful area of study when working with students. Bandura (1997) identified four sources of self-efficacy (mastery experiences —multiple opportunities to try a skill; vicarious experiences—verbal and nonverbal responses from adults; social persuasion experiences—verbal and nonverbal responses from classmates; physiological states, such as anxiety. Integrating these sources of self-efficacy can assist a researcher in studying the dynamics of a specific situation. For example, Britner and Pajares (2006) found that these sources of self-efficacy influenced science achievement for middle school students.

A third way to integrate self-efficacy is to use collective self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997), particularly when a researcher wants to examine the self-efficacy of a group of individuals who have ties to an organization or experiences. For instance, if a researcher was studying naturalists who volunteered for a particular nature center, the researcher could gauge the group’s self-efficacy for a number of issues, such as collective self-efficacy for teaching, training the public, and/or conservation efforts.

Bandura, A. (1989). Human agency in social cognitive theory. American Psychologist, 44(9), 1175-1184.

Bandura, A. (1997). The exercise of control. W. H. Freeman and Company.

Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara,G. V., & Pastorelli, C. (2001). Self-efficacy beliefs as shapers of children’s aspirations and career trajectories. Child Development, 72(1), 187-206.

Britner, S. L., & Pajares, F. (2006). Sources of science self-efficacy beliefs of middle school students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43(5), 485-499. 

Cleary, T. J., Slemp, J., & Waire, J. (2019). Motivation processes in citizen science programs: Current status and future directions. In S. E. Hiller & A. Kitsantas (Eds.), Enhancing STEM motivation through Citizen Science programs (pp. 49-68). Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Hiller, S. E., & Kitsantas, A. (2016). The validation of the citizen science self-efficacy scale (CSSES). The International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 11(5), 543-55. 

Schunk, D. H., & Pajares, F. (2005). Competence perceptions and academic functioning. In A. J. Elliott & C. S. Dweck (Eds.). Handbook of competence and motivation (pp. 85-104). Guilford Press.

Soldavini, J., Tallie, L. S., Lytle, L. A., Berner, M., Ward, D. S., Ammerman, A. (2022). Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 54(3), 211-218.