Values, Motivation, and Self-efficacy in Adult Learning

Values are ideas about good and bad and how things should be.

Motivation is the internally generated state or feeling that stimulates us to act.

Motivation is linked to needs and values. Values are linked to internal or intrinsic motivation.

Motives are inner states that energize, activate, and direct behavior.

In actual situations, motivation is not just a person’s keenness for something; it always favors that action or goal against perceived alternatives, which may or may not be clearly perceived. Motivation is not single-valued but multi-valued or fragmented, taking up different values even when directed toward the same action or decision. No action or goal has an inherent ability to motivate.

Events and situations seen as threatening one’s values arouse negative emotions: fear, anxiety, and dissatisfaction.

Conversely, events and situations seen as furthering one’s values produce positive emotions: happiness, satisfaction, and love.

Coaching aims for the learner to understand their motivations, helping clients to recognize their multiple values and explore how these relate to developmental tasks, life goals, and project-level goals.

In learning contracts, set negotiated learning goals owned by the client to empower and motivate them. High commitment to goals results when the client values the outcome and is convinced the goal is important and they can achieve it.

Vroom Expectancy Theory teaches us that people exert work effort to achieve task performance and realize work-related outcomes in proportion to valence, instrumentality, and expectancy. They are motivated by the outcome’s value and their actions’ expected results.

Valence appraises valued outcomes and ranges from very undesirable to very desirable. 

To increase valence, identify needs and match rewards to needs.

Instrumentality implies that one can predict what level of task performance will result in what outcome. 

To reveal instrumentality, clarify possible rewards for performance, and give performance contingent rewards.

Expectancy is one’s estimate that effort will result in success, predicting what performance level one can achieve, ranging from impossible to certain. One can achieve a task performance level by exerting reasonable effort.

What do you value; what is imperative to you?

What do you believe you can achieve?

(How sure are you that you will be rewarded when you achieve the goal?)


Closely linked to expectancy is Bandura’s self-efficacy concept. It is rooted in social learning theory and indicates the general or specific belief concerning one’s capacity to succeed at tasks. Self-efficacy beliefs are at the root of human agency, the sense that one makes things happen through actions.

Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, behave, and motivate themselves. “I have the capability to perform at required levels to exercise influence over events affecting my life.”

Self-efficacy builds through previous successful experiences, observing others succeed, verbal persuasion, and positive moods and wellbeing.

Self-efficacy directly affects performance through chosen goal difficulty and commitment to the goal. Setting clear goals at the right difficulty level and valence is conducive to flow experiences. Sharing experiences and modeling behavior enhance others’ self-efficacy, as does positive, honest feedback on achievement.

Coaching applications

Draw out, emphasize, and celebrate past achievements and strengths that the client may have forgotten, undervalued, or not recognized.

Ask to identify role models and inspiration.

Use positive psychological interventions to raise hope, positive moods, and wellbeing.

Help clients to look for the possibility of approaching threatening situations with (some degree of)  assurance they can exercise control over them.

Help reframe difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than threats to be avoided, fostering intrinsic interest and engrossment in activities.

Help reframe failure as due to insufficient effort or deficient knowledge and skills that are acquirable.