Case Analysis on Principles of Learner Motivation

This is a sample of my case analysis in one of my major subjects. This analysis discusses Attribution Theory and Self- Efficacy as concepts that help motivate students to learn.


Attribution theory is a Social Cognitive process that influence motivation of why people do what they do. It addresses the perceived causes of outcomes and how this influences existing beliefs in expectations and behavior (Alderman, 2008).  According to Weiner, factors that affect achievement are ability, effort, task difficulty and luck. Ability refers to how well we can do something based on our skill. Effort is how hard we try to do the task at hand. Task difficulty is our perception of how easy or hard a task is and luck is how we try to explain things that happened by chance.

There are three causal dimensions of Attribution. According to Weiner,   First is the Internal-External continuum- is the cause guided by internal attribution such as ability and effort or is it guided by external factors such as luck and task difficulty?  Second is Stability. This refers on the probability of consistence or change of cause over time. Third is controllability- is the person in control of the situation or does he have little influence on the cause?

(1.) In the Case Study, Harvey’s main attribution on account of his performance in his essay is Luck- “Oh, I just got lucky last on that essay assignment. I think you must have felt sorry for me for my lousy writing abilities”. In this situation, luck is regarded as external, uncontrollable and unstable causal dimension. Based on the fact that Harvey attributed his success in writing on Luck and not on his belief on his ability to do a good job of it, his success was determined by an external factor.  The fact that Luck was the factor for Harvey’s success, Harvey has no control over it. Luck cannot be controlled, one cannot just say “I will be lucky on my next assignment and get a high grade” and be sure that it is definitely going to happen- it is an external influence that cannot be controlled and therefore, unstable because Harvey may or may not be lucky that his teacher “will feel sorry for his lousy writing abilities” next time there is a homework thus the causal dimension has no consistency.

When success is based on luck, the resulting expectancy of behavior will be low confidence. Because Harvey’s success is attributed by external, unstable and uncontrollable dimension, there is no reason to believe that he will still be successful the next time. Even though Mrs. Brewster praised his work thus experiencing success, his motivation on wanting to do a good job on his next homework will not be high because the success was not based on his ability but on luck.

(2.) In school, teacher feedback is a way to interpret a student’s attribution to his success or failure.  In the case at hand, when Mrs. Brewster said, “ Now, Harvey, you know that is not true. I think you hit personal best on your last essay. You are using the strategies we talked about in class and are really becoming a very good writer. It makes me proud to see you working hard”, Mrs. Brewster used praise to address Harvey’s attribution of his success on luck. By using praise, Mrs. Brewster effectively swayed Harvey’s belief on luck and leaned on a direction that his ability is what caused him to do a good job on his essay assignment. The effectiveness was seen when “Harvey smiled on his way to his desk”.  If by using praise, Harvey would believe on his ability to do a good job, then his motivation would change. His motivation would be set high because he will believe that he still can do a good job next time because his attribution is based on an internal, controlled and stable factor such as ability.

(3.) Self-Efficacy is defined as a person’s belief in his capability to execute an action successfully. It is a person’s belief in his competence to accomplish a task that would result to a favorable outcome. This is important to students’ motivation and performance because this is a construct that could determine success on a given task.  Students who believe they can succeed tend to show greater interest, set higher goals, put forth greater effort and show more resilience when they encounter difficulty (Bandura,1997; Pajeres, 1996).

In the case at hand, this is identified when Sylvia said “This should be interesting. I don’t know much about the Renaissance, and t began a whole new emphasis on learning all over the world. Ms. Brewster has given us a lot of responsibility so we need to come through”. In this instance, Sylvia believes in her capability to do a good job because even though she doesn’t know much about the Renaissance, she is willing to put in a lot of effort and resilience in doing the task.  On the other hand, Susan thinks she will not be able to keep up with the success of Sylvia because her self- efficacy is based on the belief that she will be the dumbest in the group because she thinks everybody is smart. With this belief, the determination for her motivation to succeed is low. How much we believe in our capabilities is a determining factor of our motivation in wanting to do something that could result in a favorable outcome.

(4.) Bandura proposed four sources of self-efficacy: Mastery Experiences, Vicarious Experiences, Social Persuasion and Emotional and Physiological state.

Mastery Experiences is when success or failure on the next given task is based on a previous result of   attainment. When students were successful the last time, they tend to believe that will be successful the next- thus their self- efficacy is set higher. If students failed on a previous task, then their self-efficacy is set lower thus their belief on success is set lower.

Vicarious Experiences. Self-efficacy comes from the observation of other people we consider as role models. Seeing other people succeed tends to raise our beliefs that we too, are capable in attaining success

Social Persuasion. People who surround us can strengthen or weaken our self-efficacy that we have the capability in attaining success.

Emotional and Physiological state. The state we are in will influence how we see ourselves. Positive emotions can boost our beliefs that we can succeed in doing a good job while negative emotions can dampen our spirits and affect our belief that we can do a good job.

In the case at hand, Ms. Brewster was able to increase students’ sense of self-efficacy by Social persuasion. She used positive teacher feedback such as “Now, isn’t that interesting! Mrs. Brewster waved energetically..” and “You are using the strategies we talked about in class and are really becoming a very good writer”. By using positive teacher feedback, she is able to persuade a student to believe that he/she has what it takes to master certain activities that could result to a favorable outcome. Students are then able to believe in their capabilities thus sustain their efforts in doing a great job.



Alderman, M.K (2008). Motivation for Achievement. New York: Taylor & Francis

Usher, E., Pajeres, F (2005). Sources of academic and self-regulatory efficacy beliefs of entering middle school students. Elsevier Inc. doi:10.1016/j.cedpsych.2005.03.002