What Is Educational Psychology? 6 Examples and Theories 

Educational psychology is one of the oldest branches of this field, with its roots at least as far back as Plato’s.

Plato believed that learning is based on the innate ability of the mind to receive information and judge its intellectual and moral value.

Plato’s most prominent disciple, Aristotle, emphasized how learning involves succession in time, contiguousness in space, and the formation of associations such as similarities and/or contradictions.

Later thinkers would pay great attention to learning and memory processes, different teaching methods, and how learning can be optimized.

These thinkers, together, constitute a growing and diverse body of theory and practice of educational psychology, and it is an interesting topic that we will discuss below.

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What is educational psychology and why is it important?

Educational psychology

Educational psychology is devoted to the study and improvement of human learning throughout life, regardless of the situation.

Such settings include not only schools, but also workplaces, organized sports, government agencies, and retirement communities – anywhere humans are engaged in some form of instruction and learning.

Educational psychology is important because it focuses on understanding and improving the vital human capacity to learn.

In this mission of enhancing learning, educational psychologists seek to assist students and teachers alike.

A Brief History of the Area

Educational psychology As mentioned above, early Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle were concerned with the process of learning for factual and ethical knowledge.

However, it was not until later in history that educational psychology emerged as a field in its own right, separate from philosophy.

The influential British philosopher and “father of psychology” John Locke (1632–1704) described the human mind as a tabla rasa (blank slate) with no innate or innate knowledge, but merely an accumulation of experiences. can learn through

Johann Herbert (1776–1841) is considered the founder of educational psychology as a distinct field. He emphasized interest in a subject as an important component of learning.

He also proposed five formal stages of learning:

  • reviewing what is already known
  • Previewing new material to be learned
  • introduction of new material
  • relating to new material that is already known
  • showing how new knowledge can be usefully applied

Maria Montessori (1870–1952) was an Italian physician and educator who began teaching children with disabilities and disadvantaged children. He then established a network of schools that taught children of all backgrounds using a practical, multi-sensory, and often student-directed approach to learning.

Nathaniel Gage (1917–2008) was an influential educational psychologist who pioneered research on teaching. He served in the US Army during WWII, where he developed aptitude tests for the selection of airplane navigators and radar operators.

Gage developed a research program that did much to advance the scientific study of teaching.

He believed that progress in learning highly depended on effective teaching and that a strong principle of effective teaching had to cover:

  • teaching process
  • material to be taught
  • student ability and motivation level
  • classroom management

The above are just samples of influential thinkers who have contributed to the field of educational psychology over time.

For an excellent and concise history of educational psychology by Plato and Aristotle through behaviorism and other modern movements, please see Grinder (1989).

Job Description and Roles of an Educational Psychologist

Educational psychologists usually hold master’s degrees or doctorate degrees in this field.

They work in a variety of teaching, research, and applied settings (e.g., K-12, university, military, and educational industries such as textbook and test developers).

People with doctorates often teach and do research at colleges or universities.

They teach basic courses such as Introduction to Educational Psychology and more advanced seminars such as Professional Ethics in Educational Psychology, or Research Methods in Educational Psychology.

They research topics such as the best measure of literacy skills for students in secondary education, the most effective way to teach early career professionals in engineering, and the relationship between education level and emotional health in retirees.

Educational psychologists also serve in various applied roles, such as counseling on curriculum design; Evaluating educational programs at schools or training sites, and offering teachers the best teaching methods for a subject area, grade level, or population, whether mainstream students, students with disabilities, or gifted students.

Real-life examples

Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor Mamie Phipps Clark Howard Gardner is best known for developing the theory of multiple intelligences.

This theory states that in addition to the traditionally measured verbal and visual-spatial intelligence, there are also forms that include kinetic or athletic intelligence, interpersonal or socio-emotional intelligence, musical or artistic intelligence, and perhaps other forms. What we haven’t learned yet. measure.

Dr. Gardner teaches, researches, and publishes. His many books include Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983) and The Disciplined Mind: Beyond Facts and Standardized Tests, The Education that Every Child Deserves (2000).

Mamie Phipps Clark (1917–1983), shown above, was the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University. She and her husband Kenneth Clark (1914–2005) were interested in the development and self-esteem of African-American children.

Her doctoral work illustrated the dehumanizing effect of separate schools on both African-American and white children in the famous “doll study” (Clark & ​​Clark, 1939). She found that both African-American children and white children had more positive attributes for white dolls than for black dolls.

This work was used as evidence in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which was unanimously approved by the U.S. was approved by. The Supreme Court ruling decided that schools separated by race were not the same and should be separated.

She and her husband founded several institutions dedicated to providing counseling and educational services for disadvantaged African-American children, including the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited Project.

Irene Marie Monteiro Gil earned her master’s degree from the Department of Evolutionary and Educational Psychology at the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain.

Ms. Monteiro Gil was balancing her post-doctoral studies with her role as the youngest member of Spain’s Congress of Deputies, representing Madrid. She later postponed her studies to become Spain’s minister of equality, an office that advocates for equal opportunity regardless of age, gender, or disability.

The above examples show only some of the contributions that educational psychologists can make in the context of research, teaching, legal, and advocacy.

3 Popular Theories

Various theories have been developed for how humans learn. Some of the most enduring and representative modern-day theories are discussed below.

1. Behaviorism

Behaviorism compares learning with observable changes in activity (Skinner, 1938). For example, an assembly line worker may have “learned” to assemble a toy from parts, and after 10 practice sessions, the worker may do so without errors within 60 seconds.

In behaviorism, attention is focused on stimuli or prompting of action (your supervisor gives you a box of toy parts), followed by a behavior (you collect the toy), followed by reinforcement or Lack (you get an increase for the fastest toy assembly).

Behaviorism holds that behavioral responses that are positively reinforced are more likely to recur in the future.

We should note that behaviorists believe in a predetermined, external reality that is discovered progressively through learning.

Some scholars have also held that from a behaviorist point of view, learners are more responsive to environmental stimuli than to active or active in the learning process (Ertmer & Newby, 2013).

However, one of the strongest developments in the later behaviorist tradition is positive behavior intervention and support (PBIS), in which proactive techniques play a major role in enhancing learning within schools.

Such proactive behavioral support includes maximizing structure in classrooms, pre-teaching clear behavioral expectations, using cues with students regularly, and actively supervising students (Simonsen & Myers, 2015).

More than 2,500 schools across the United States now implement the PBIS Supportive Behavior Framework, with documented improvements in both student behavior (Bradshaw, Wasdorp, & Leif, 2012) and achievement (Madigan, Krauss, Smolkowski, & Stryker, 2016).

2. Cognitivism

Cognitivism was partly inspired by the development of computers and an information-processing model believed to apply to human learning (Neisser, 1967).

It also developed partly as a response to perceived limitations of the behaviorist model of learning, which did not account for mental processes.

In cognitivism, learning occurs when information is acquired, organized, held in memory, and retrieved for use.

Cognitive experts are deeply interested in a neuronal or a brain-to-behavioral perspective on learning and memory. His lines of research often include studies involving functional brain imaging (eg, functional magnetic resonance imaging) to see which brain circuits are activated during specific learning tasks.

Cognitive experts are also deeply interested in “neuroplasticity,” or how learning creates new connections between individual brain cells (neurons) and their extensive neuronal networks.

From a cognitive standpoint, individuals are seen as very active in the learning process, including how they organize it to be personally meaningful and memorable.

Cognitiveists, like behaviorists, believe that learning reflects external reality rather than shaping or creating reality.

3. Constructivism

Constructivism holds that human beings learn in successive stages from childhood (Piaget, 1955).

In these stages, we combine our basic concepts, or “schemas” of reality, with world experiences and adjust our schemas accordingly.

For example, based on some experiences as a child, you can schematically assume that all objects fall when you let them go. But let’s say you find a helium balloon that rises as you leave.

Then you have to adjust your schema to capture the new reality that “most things fall when I drop them, but at least one thing rises when I drop them.”

For constructivists, there is always a subjective component to how reality is organized. From this point of view, learning cannot be said to reflect a predetermined external reality. Rather, reality is always an interplay between the world and the active creation of the world itself.

Educational Psychology Research Topics

Recent research in Educational College Educational Psychology emphasizes how socio-emotional factors affect student achievement.

For example, Zysberg and Schwabsky (2020) examined the relationship between positive school culture or climate, students’ sense of self-efficacy, and academic achievement in Israeli middle and high school settings.

They found that the school environment was positively associated with students’ sense of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy, in turn, was positively associated with academic achievement in mathematics and English.

This study reflects a constructivist approach, emphasizing how students create meaning from their educational experiences.

Other recent research has focused on behavioral interventions to support online learning, which is increasingly prevalent as an educational option.

For example, Yeomans & Reich (2017) found that regularly sending learners prompts to complete online tasks increased course completion by 29%. They concluded that sending regular reminder prompts is an inexpensive and effective way to increase online course completion.

This study shows a proactive behaviorist approach to improving educational outcomes.

Another current research area in educational psychology involves the use of brain imaging techniques during a learning activity.

For example, Takeuchi, Mori, Suzukamo, and Izumi (2019) studied brain activity in teachers and students while teachers provided cues to solve a visual-spatial problem (collecting puzzles).

They found that the prefrontal cortex of the brain involved in planning and monitoring complex cognitive activities was significantly activated in teachers, not when they planned to give the cues, but only when they gave the cues.

For student participants, the prefrontal cortex was significantly activated when they solved the puzzle with the given cues.

This study emphasizes a cognitive approach, which focuses on brain activity during learning.

For cognitivists, understanding how the brain converts instructional input into learning can lead to better learning strategies and better learning outcomes.

Educational Psychology vs School Psychology

Educational and school psychologists overlap to some extent in their training and functions, but also differ in important ways.

Educational psychologists are more involved in teaching and research at the college or university level. They also focus on larger and more diverse groups in their research and consultancy activities.

As consultants, educational psychologists work with organizations such as school districts, militaries, or corporations to develop the best practices for educational needs.

Some school psychologists are involved in teaching, research, and/or consulting with large groups such as the school district. However, most focus more on working within a particular school and with individual students and their families.

About 80% of school psychologists work in public school settings and directly intervene with individuals or small groups.

They help test and support students with special needs, help teachers develop classroom management strategies, and engage in individual or group counseling, which may include crisis counseling and emotional-behavioral support.

A Look at Vygotsky’s Thoughts

Lev Vygotsky Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934) was a Russian psychologist who developed ideas fundamental to the constructivist movement in education.

One idea at the heart of Vygotsky’s theory of learning is the zone of proximal development (ZPD).

ZPD is the area between what a learner (student, adult trainee, rehabilitation patient, etc.) can already do on his own and what the learner can easily accomplish with the help of teachers or more advanced peers.

For example, a five-year-old already knows how to perform a given three-step manual task, but can they be taught to complete a four- or five-step task?

ZPD is an area of ​​emerging skills that demands discovery and measurement of its kind to better understand a learner’s potential (Moll, 2014).

Vygotsky was also interested in the relationship between thought and language. He theorized that most thoughts involved internal language or “inner speech”. Like Piaget, whose work he read with interest, Vygotsky saw language as a social origin, which later became internalized as internal speech.

In that sense, Vygotsky is often considered a (social) constructivist, where learning depends on social communication and norms. Learning thus refers to our connection and agreement with others, more than a relation to a purely external or objective reality.

Take a home message

The field of educational psychology has ancient roots and survives today.

Today, many programs around the world provide quality training in educational psychology at the master’s, doctoral and postdoctoral levels.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, career opportunities in psychology will grow at a healthy rate of about 14% this decade, and educational psychology is expected to keep pace.

Furthermore, job satisfaction has traditionally been high in related fields such as educational psychology and school psychology, which include social influence, independence, and compensation (Worrell, Skaggs & Brown, 2006).

People with a doctorate in educational psychology have the potential to make a huge impact on any type of learner. They often teach at the college or university level, conduct research and publish on a variety of topics in the field, or consult with various organizations about the best teaching and learning practices.

Researchers in educational psychology have made significant contributions to contemporary education and culture, from learning paradigms (behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism) and the theory of multiple intelligences to active school-wide positive behavior support.

We hope you learned more about the rich field of educational psychology from this short article and found the resources involved useful. Don’t forget to download our free positive psychology exercises.

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