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Student agency

Author: Janet Fletcher, Senior SACE Officer Curriculum and Assessment, SACE Board of SA
Published: June 2018
This is a ‘Terminology in brief’ article, delving into a term's background, meaning, and use in the educational space. Shorter definitions can be found in our wordlist.

One of the components of leading psychologist Albert Bandura's social cognitive theory that is applied to education is self-efficacy.

Efficacy, the belief that 'one has the power to effect changes by one's own actions', is at the heart of agency. If you do not believe you have the power to affect change, then you will not act.

He identified four aspects of agency:

  1. Intentionality: to be an agent 'is to influence intentionally one's functioning…'
  2. Forethought: set goals and motivate effort.
  3. Self-regulation: monitoring and regulating action.
  4. Self-examination: reflecting on the soundness of thought and action and making adjustments.

Student agency is active engagement in the process of learning based upon the student's belief in his/her ability to act in their learning through understanding that they have the power, capacity and responsibility to:

  • develop skills
  • take action
  • make choices

that will move their learning forward.

"Deeper learning requires students to think, question, pursue, and create—to take agency and ownership of their learning. When they do, they acquire deeper understanding and skills, and most important, they become more competent learners in and out of school. They become better prepared to succeed in academics, but also in 21st century careers and in life. We can't force students to develop agency and drive their own learning. It must come from within." (Briceño 2014)


Bandura, A 2005, 'Adolescent development from an agentic perspective', in Pajares, F & Urdan, T 2005, Self-Efficacy Beliefs of Adolescents, IEAP – Information Age Publishing Inc, USA, pp 1-44

Briceño, E 2014, 'Mindsets and student agency', CompetencyWorks, viewed 12 June 2018, www.competencyworks.org