What is Educational Psychology?

educational psychology examplesOne of the things that educational psychology addresses is how people learn. Some of the topics that this field might cover include individual learning differences, instructional processes, learning outcomes, learning disabilities, and gifted learners.

Although this psychology branch often focuses on children and adolescents, these psychologists study cognitive, social, and processes in all age groups. Some of the other disciplines that also play a role include cognitive, behavioral, and developmental psychology.

How Long Has This Field in Psychology Been Around?

Education-related psychology has seen a large amount of growth, despite its relative newness as a distinct subfield. Because psychology only achieved status as a separate science in the late 1800s, most psychology work was related to education.

Some of these early figures include:

  • John Locke – Locke was a philosopher who lived between 1632 and 1704 who promoted the theory of the mind being a blank slate that develops through learning and experience, with beliefs strongly influenced by Enlightenment ideas
  • Johann Herbart – Herbart was a philosopher and early psychologist who lived between 1776 and 1841 emphasized teachers providing instruction according to students’ interests, as well as prior knowledge when determining an instruction type
  • William James – James lived from 1842 to 1910 and was the psychologist most well-known for lectures that addressed how teachers could help students learn most effectively, as well as the first to teach a psychology class
  • Alfred Binet – Binet, who was born in 1857 and died in 1911, was the inventor of what we now know as intelligence tests, which helped identify possible developmental delays
  • John Dewey – Dewey, who lived from 1859 to 1952, was both an educational reformer and psychologist who emphasized learning through doing and progressive education
  • Jean Piaget – Piaget, who was born in 1892 and died in 1980, was the psychologist best known for promoting cognitive development theory
  • B.F. Skinner – Skinner, who lived between 1904 and 1990, was the behaviorist most responsible for promoting the theory of operant conditioning
  • Benjamin Bloom – Bloom, who was born in 1913 and died in 1999, was the developer of the taxonomy that describes and categorizes the three primary educational objectives, which are affective, cognitive, and psychomotor.

Related resource: Top Master’s Degrees in Educational Psychology

What Are the Main Subjects That This Subset Focuses On?

Educational psychologists work closely with students, teachers, and administration staff to learn more about the most effective learning methods. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, educational settings represent one of the biggest markets for jobs in psychology. A few of the responsibilities might include identifying students having difficulty and developing programs to help them overcome their struggles. New learning methods may come about as a result of this type of work.

Some of the important career focuses include:

  • Educational technology
  • Instructional design
  • Organizational learning
  • Curriculum development
  • Special education
  • Gifted students

The Role of Education Technology

Educational technology is one field that can help maximize how technology allows students to learn more effectively. Both hardware and software, as well as theoretical concepts, play crucial roles in education technology. The use of technology is of vital importance in providing the education that students need in today’s learning environment. A background in psychology helps fill in where technology cannot work in its own right. Psychology helps educators understand the impact that certain forms of technology have on the learning process.

What Instructional Design Does

Another field is instructional design, which relates to learning materials development. Education-related psychology gives educators the background they need to develop the proper materials for student needs. Both public and private schools have begun to appreciate the value of adapting learning materials to their students’ needs. One of the things that has come about from schools and educators being more responsive to the needs of students is better learning outcomes, making this focus of great importance for psychology students.

The Impact of Organizational Learning

Many psychologists with an educational background study the organizational learning process, as well as curriculum development. The organizational learning process is one of the most critical areas of study in education-focused psychology. One of the most essential functions that organizational learning serves is helping educators and psychologists learn more about learning processes in a group setting, which differ somewhat from individual methods and are worthy of their own study.

Curriculum Development and Its Importance

Developing an effective curriculum is a vital part of ensuring that students get the most out of the learning process. The backgrounds that psychologists who have studied education have provided them with better knowledge in the ways that students might process information. A more thorough understanding of how students learn helps educators design the curriculum in more effective ways.

The Role of Psychologists in Special Education

Another setting that many educational psychologists work in is helping students with special or gifted needs. Special education-focused psychologists help students who need specialized instruction due to developmental or physical disabilities. An understanding of psychology helps educators tailor the learning experience to the unique needs of special education students. These students often require learning techniques structured towards their different abilities.

How Psychologists Help Gifted Students

Psychologists who specialize in education may also help identify gifted students, who are also likely to have needs that a standard curriculum might not meet. In many cases, these students are at risk of not reaching their potential if their typical academic program fails to hold their interest. Regardless of the circumstances, these psychologists will help students try to reach their full potential.

What Are Some of the Major Perspectives in This Field?

All branches of psychology feature different approaches or perspectives that might be used for problem-solving, and the education-related subfield is no exception. These different perspectives include:

  • Behavioral
  • Developmental
  • Cognitive
  • Constructivist

Each of these perspectives brings a new way of looking at psychology in education to key decision-makers. Although most psychologists who work in an educational setting will not be likely to use all of these approaches, an understanding of all of them is important. The more educational psychologists understand the processes, the more they will know how to address these needs in the future.

About the Behavioral Approach

The behavioral approach to psychology has its basis in the idea that all behaviors are learned through the conditioning process. This approach relies heavily on Skinner’s theories of operant conditioning. One example of this approach is the use of rewards. However, critics feel that those approach does not address intrinsic motivations, cognitions, or attitudes. The behavioral perspective continues to be a topic of much discussion in spite of its long-standing acceptance in the world of psychology.

The Developmental Perspective

The developmental perspective draws on Piaget’s cognitive development stages. Knowledge and skills that children adopt as they grow play an essential role in understanding children’s’ capabilities at different stages. One of the things that is most helpful for educators about this perspective is that they can adapt both their materials and methods to suit the needs of different age groups. Some educators feel that this approach is one of the most helpful for adopting a curriculum that adapts to students’ changing educational needs.

The Cognitive Approach

The cognitive approach involves understanding more about thinking, learning, remembering, and processing information. This perspective has become much more popular in recent years. Some of the things that educators working through this approach do is understand what motivates learning in children or adolescents, how they remember the information received, and their problem-solving. A better understanding of all these concepts makes it easier for educators to know how to create materials with the most significant impact.

The Constructivist Perspective

The constructivist perspective in educational psychology is relatively newer, with a focus on children’s active construction of their world knowledge. This approach treats cultural and social influences as having a significant impact. Lev Vygotsky was the psychologist who played the most considerable role in advancing this perspective, and the approach continues to draw a lot of attention today.

What is the Career Outlook Like for This Form of Psychology?

Although this psychology subset is relatively new, it has a growing following. A better understanding of how people learn, instead of only what they learn, is going to keep playing more of a role in teaching on education. With psychology either being an elective or a requirement in many degree programs, it is likely that interest will continue to grow in the coming years.

Choosing a career in education-related psychology can be a wise choice for students interested in the development of curriculum and teaching methods. Career prospects for this field are promising, especially as educators continually look for ways to refine their techniques for different student groups.

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