The origins of the field of Educational Psychology can be traced back to the experimental and empirical work on association and sensory activity by the anthropologist Sir Francis Galton, and the American psychologist G. Stanley Hall, who wrote The Contents of Children’s Minds (1883). Other major theorists in the early history of the field include William James, John Dewey, and Edward L. Thorndike. In 1903 Thorndike wrote a book on educational psychology with the same name and later, in 1910, he started the Journal of Educational Psychology. This led to the establishment of the field as one that needed much thought and elaboration along with research.
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Presently the field of education psychology deals with all subject matters related to students, teachers, learning and classroom environments and adopting an eclectic approach towards improvement of the learning experience. Much of the research in educational psychology has been conducted in classroom settings, which mirror the applied nature of this field. The field has come a long way but the driving idea behind the field has remained the same throughout – the focus on the study of children in classroom settings to assist in the application of research into practice in educational institutions and related environments.
Education psychology is a robust and dynamic field, it is a discipline with lots of stakeholders and much more opportunities for research. Contemporary educational psychology encompasses a broad and complex array of topics, research, and social policies including but not limited to children’s learning and abilities, reading, classroom processes, and teacher effectiveness. An important contribution of educational psychology is the knowledge and guidance provided to the education of teachers. Alfred Binet was also an early contributor to the field who found a way to identify children who would need specialized assistance. This helped start intelligence testing and the identification of both intellectually gifted children and the children that would need a more targeted teaching approach. The research for drafting of curriculum and teaching approaches soon started.
Benjamin Bloom introduced the Bloom’s taxonomy in 1956 after series of conferences (1949-53), which helped in classifying educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity. It covers the learning objectives in cognitive, affective and sensory domains. The cognitive domain list has been the primary focus of most traditional education and is frequently used to structure curriculum learning objectives, assessments, and activities. One of the notable works was the introduction of motivational constructs that apply to all individuals, which helped explain important individual differences in cognition. The seminal work of Bernard Weiner (1979) has been instrumental in promoting research that linked cognition and motivation.
Since the 1980s researchers have focused on understanding how teachers acquire and develop the ability to teach the content to diverse students in multiple ways, leading to the understanding of the specialized knowledge base required to be an effective teacher. The social constructivist model (which views physical and social contexts as integral parts of any cognitive endeavour) has played an important part in our understanding of learning. Research in this tradition stresses that the situations and social environments within which they are learned influence skills and that such situated knowledge becomes a fundamental part of what is learned.
A paramount change in the 1990s was the critical paradigm shift from Behaviourism to cognitive psychology that shaped the discipline over this period. Cognitivism revolved around cognitive processes such as decision making, problem solving, thinking and memory. It allowed for the systematic study and measurement of learning by assessing learning as a product of cognitive processes. Recent work in the field has focused on how teachers become committed to students, meeting individual student needs, and monitoring their own and their students’ learning. In this respect, teaching and teachers are viewed as part of learning communities that require judgment and ongoing, flexible decision making to support student learning in culturally inclusive settings Initial teacher preparation has substantially changed over the past two decades in multiple domains of instruction as new learning environments are developed and the changing influence of social and digital media and advancing technology on student as well as teacher learning is integrated into curriculums.
Educational psychologists have been influential in stressing the need for credible school-based intervention research. Action research is one such example where the school administration itself carries out studies to improve the methods and approach of the teachers and administration towards learning. Educational psychology hence acts as the conduit to introduce and apply research and principles of psychology to educational practices. Education psychology has a large scope of practice which needs research such as: guidance and counselling, adopting individual differences in the way learning takes place in the classroom and in recognition and advancement of students with learning disabilities.
The internet-information age calls for much more flexible, reflective, motivated and active learners and teachers and hence education psychology will be paramount in tailoring the curriculum and keeping it in check with the changing times. The role of educational psychologists will continue to be an important and credible voice in resolving ongoing controversies critical to the advancement and application of knowledge for educational practice.
Trustworthy and credible instructional research to assess the relative impact of educational and psychological treatments or interventions is of critical importance for policy makers and herein lies the most important and impactful contribution of educational psychology.