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Educational Psychology Introduction
Educational Psychology is the application of scientific method to the study of the behavior of people in instructional settings. Although the be-havior of teachers and students is of greatest inter-est, educational psychologists also study the be-havior of other groups, such as teacher aides, in-fants, migrants, and the aged.
The areas covered by educational psychologists
inevitably overlap with other areas of psychology, including child and adolescent development, social psychology, psychological testing, and educational counseling. Development of the Field
The philosophic, rather than the scientific, method was the main mode for inquiry about learning and the mind until 1879, when the Ger-man psychologist Wilhelm Wundt founded a labo-ratory in Leipzig devoted to the scientific study of psychology.
Another German psychologist of the time,
Hermann Ebbinghaus, developed techniques for the experimental study of memory and forgetting. Before Ebbinghaus, these higher mental processes had never been scientifically studied; the impor-tance of this work for the practical world of school-ing was immediately recognized.
At the same time, the American philosopher
and psychologist William James started a labora-tory at Harvard University for experimental psy-chology. James, influenced by Charles Darwin, was interested in how behavior adapted in different en-vironments.
This functional approach to behavioral re-
search led James to study practical areas of hu-man endeavor, such as education. In 1899 he pub-lished Talks to Teachers, in which he discussed the relation between psychology and teaching.
Jamess student Edward Lee Thorndike is usu-
ally considered the first educational psychologist. In his book Educational Psychology (1903), Thorndike claimed to report only scientific and quantifiable research. In 1913 and 1914 he pub-lished three volumes of material containing reports of virtually all the scientific study in psychology that had relevance to education.
Thorndike made major contributions to the
study of intelligence and ability testing, mathemat-ics and reading instruction, and the way learning transfers from one situation to another. In addi-
tion, he developed an important theory of learning that describes how stimuli and responses are con-nected.
The field of educational psychology flourished
within the progressive movement in education that had begun in the early 20th century. The Great Depression, however, led psychologists to adopt a more modest position about their potential for im-proving education.
Only only a few people conducted empirical re-
search in educational psychology, from the early 1930s until the mid-1940s. Four factors changed the outlook of the field again: World War II, the postwar baby boom, the curricula reform move-ment, and a growing concern for disadvantaged children.
During World War II, psychologists in the
armed forces were required to solve practical edu-cational problems. They learned to predict, for in-stance, who would make a good pilot or radio re-pairman; they learned to teach skills such as air-craft gunnery and cooking quickly. When the war ended, many of these psychologists turned their attention to testing and instruction in education.
Concurrently, as schools were filled by the
postwar baby boom, educational psychologists were needed to design and evaluate instructional materials, training programs, and tests. By the late 1950s, when the United States was carrying on a technological race with the Soviet Union, efforts to update the American school curriculum were in-creased.
Educational psychologists worked with leaders
in science and mathematics to develop new curric-ula and new teacher-education programs. Later, millions of dollars of federal money were allocated to improve the academic performance of disadvan-taged students. Educational psychologists were deeply involved in the design and evaluation of programs to accomplish this goal.
These societal forces led to rapid growth in the
field after 1960. Today, many educational psy-chologists belong to the American Psychological Association, and members of the American Educa-tional Research Association are concerned with issues in the field.
Most universities now require preservice teach-
ers to take at least one course in educational psy-chology. Empirical research is constantly con-
ducted at the university level and reported in doz-ens of journals. Theories in Educational Psychology
Because of the wide diversity in human beings, instructional settings, and fields of study, no gen-eral theory has been formulated that is applicable to all educational psychology. Instead, psycholo-gists work on developing theories about particular phenomena in learning, motivation, development, teaching, and instruction. Learning Theory
Different theories of learning help educational psychologists understand, predict, and control human behavior. For example, educational psy-chologists have worked out mathematical models of learning that predict the probability of a persons making a correct response; these mathematical theories are used to design computerized instruc-tion in reading, mathematics, and second-language learning.
To understand a childs emotional aversion to
school, the respondent (or classical) conditioning theory originated by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov may be used. Pavlovs theory describes how stimuli that occur together may come to evoke similar responses. To inquire about the origins of a child's disruptive classroom behavior, the operant (or instrumental) conditioning theory of Thorndike and the American psychologist B. F. Skinner may be applicable.
This theory describes how rewards shape and
maintain behavior. School violence and vandalism may be partially understood through the social-learning theory of the Canadian-American psy-chologist Albert Bandura, which describes the conditions under which people learn to imitate models. Information-processing theory is used to understand how people solve problems by analogy and metaphor.
Attribution theory describes the role of motiva-tion in a persons success or failure in school situations. Success on a test, for instance, could be attributed to luck or hard work; the theory pre-dicts the behavior of students depending on their responses. Development
The theory of the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget that intellectual ability is qualitatively differ-ent at different ages and that children need inter-action with the environment to gain intellectual competency has influenced all of education and psychology.
This new concept of intelligence affected the design of learning environments for young children and the development of mathematics and science programs. Theory in Teaching
The scientific study of teaching is a relatively new development; until the 1950s, little systematic observation and experimentation took place. The research on teaching has been consistent in its implications for academic achievement.
The variables that educational psychologists
have found to be important in classroom teaching include the time teachers allocate to instruction, the amount of content they cover, the percent of time that students are engaged in learning, the congruence between what is taught and what is tested, and the ability of the teacher to give clear directions, provide feedback, hold students ac-countable for their behavior, and create a warm, democratic atmosphere for learning. Instructional Theory
The American educator Robert Gagn devel-oped a hierarchical theory that some types of learning are prerequisites to other kinds of learn-ing. His research has been fruitfully used in de-termining the sequence of instruction. Applications of Educational Psychology
In schools, educational psychology has been applied recently to creating a system of instruction known as mastery learning, which is based on the belief that most students can achieve high grades if certain procedures are followed: 1. The curriculum is broken down into logically
sequenced units of about two weeks duration; 2. The students pass a test at the end of each unit
of learning before proceeding to the next unit; 3. Alternate forms of instruction and tests are
available so that students can do remedial work if they fail the first time; and
4. Students determine for themselves the amount of time they need to complete a unit. This form of instruction is usually successful in courses that stress acquisition of knowledge. Educational psychologists frequently engage in
curriculum research and development. Instruc-tional plans and test items are designed to match specified objectives. The plans then are tested and, if necessary, redesigned on the basis of empirical findings. This method has also been used to design instructional television programs and a wide range of ancillary curriculum materials.
Techniques of educational psychology are used in teacher-training programs. Principles of behav-ior modification are applied to a wide set of teach-ing problems such as reducing the noise level of disorderly classrooms or increasing the study time of students who daydream.
Educational psychologists have devised in-service teacher-training programs to improve read-ing and mathematics instruction in accord with the findings of recent empirical research. These studies demonstrate that research on teaching can be used to train teachers in ways that will increase student achievement, even in low-achieving classrooms. Trends in Educational Psychology
Educational psychologists have become in-creasingly interested in how people receive, inter-pret, encode, store, and retrieve information. At-tempts to understand the cognitive process have shed light on human problem solving, memory, and creativity.
Because of many new theories about appropri-
ate ways to assess an individual's ability and apti-tude, educational psychologists are also working in the area of test development. The educational im-pact of technological advances, such as the micro-computer, has also been the subject of study and evaluation.
In addition, laws in the U.S. require handi-
capped, emotionally disturbed, and learning-disabled children to remain whenever possible in regular classrooms. These laws have extended the area of empirical study, as problems occasioned by associated changes require solutions from educa-tional psychologists.