Critical thinking and self-efficacy in autodidactic learning: The effects of program type, self-esteem, and program characteristics

Date of Completion

January 1996


The American economy is threatened by a lack of global competitiveness. Without changes in the way in which American industries respond to global economic change, the present standard of living cannot be maintained. Administrators in the United States Department of Labor are calling for the development of critical thinking and life long learning skills in our workforce. Research indicates that current curricular practices of colleges, for the most part, are not producing graduates who can think critically or who have learned how to learn.^ The study examined the effect of undergraduate program type on critical thinking and self efficacy in autodidactic learning among 431 college students selected from a private four year college. Theoretical background for this study included Kolb's experiential learning process as a method which fosters the development of critical thinking. Candy's theories regarding autodidactic learning characteristics and the impact of self directed learning activities also supported the theoretical basis for this study. The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal, the Rosenburg Self Esteem Inventory, and the Learning Environment Description Questionnaire were used to collect data for the study. Data were analyzed with ANOVA, ANCOVA, and regression procedures. Results of the analyses described the differences among three types of programs and between pre program and post program students with respect to critical thinking scores, self efficacy in autodidactic learning, use of experiential learning processes, and use of self directed learning processes. Regression analysis indicated that pre-post program differences in critical thinking scores could be partially explained by experiential learning transforming scores, self directed learning processes, and self efficacy in autodidactic learning scores. Regression analysis also indicated that self efficacy in autodidactic learning could be partially explained by self directed learning scores, self esteem level, and critical thinking scores.^ Results of the study support the inclusion of experiential learning transforming processes and self directed learning processes in college programs to support the development of critical thinking and self efficacy in autodidactic learning. Differentiation is made between critical thinking and reflective judgment with an integrated model regarding the development of critical thinking, autodidactic learning, and reflective judgment presented. ^