What Is Educational Psychology? 6 Examples and Theories

What is Educational Psychology

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

Plato’s foremost pupil, Aristotle, emphasized how learning involves building associations such as succession in time, contiguity in space, and similarities and/or contrasts.

Later thinkers would devote considerable attention to learning and memory processes, various teaching methods, and how learning can be optimized.

Together, these thinkers have formed the growing and diverse body of theory and practice of educational psychology, and this intriguing topic is what we will discuss below.

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This Article Contains:

What is educational psychology and why is it important, a brief history of the field, job description and roles of an educational psychologist, 3 real-life examples, 3 popular theories, educational psychology research topics, educational psychology vs school psychology, a look into vygotsky’s ideas, positivepsychology.com’s relevant resources, a take-home message.

Educational psychology is dedicated to the study and improvement of human learning, across the lifespan, in whatever setting it occurs.

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

Educational psychology is important because of its focus on understanding and improving the crucial human capacity to learn.

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

Educational Psychology

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

John Locke (1632–1704), the influential British philosopher and “father of psychology,” famously described the human mind as a tabula rasa  (blank slate) that had no innate or inborn knowledge, but could only learn through the accumulation of experiences.

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

He also proposed five formal steps of learning:

  • Reviewing what is already known
  • Previewing new material to be learned
  • Presenting new material
  • Relating new material to what is already known
  • Showing how new knowledge can be usefully applied

Maria Montessori (1870–1952) was an Italian physician and educator who started by teaching disabled and underprivileged children. She then founded a network of schools that taught children of all backgrounds using a hands-on, 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 U.S. Army during WWII, where he developed aptitude tests for selecting airplane navigators and radar operators.

Gage went on to develop a research program that did much to advance the scientific study of teaching.

He believed that progress in learning highly depends on effective teaching and that a robust theory of effective teaching has to cover:

  • The process of teaching
  • Content to be taught
  • Student abilities and motivation level
  • Classroom management

The above is only a sample of the influential thinkers who have contributed over time to the field of educational psychology.

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Educational psychologists have typically earned either a master’s degree or doctorate in the field.

They work in a variety of teaching, research, and applied settings (e.g., K–12, universities, the military, and educational industries like textbook and test developers).

Those with a doctorate 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 conduct research on topics such as the best measure of literacy skills for students in secondary education, the most effective method for teaching early career professionals in engineering, and the relationship between education level and emotional health in retirees.

Educational psychologists also work in various applied roles, such as consulting on curriculum design; evaluating educational programs at schools or training sites; and offering teachers the best instructional methods for a subject area, grade level, or population, be it mainstream students, those with disabilities, or gifted students.

Mamie Phipps Clark

This theory states that besides the traditionally measured verbal and visual–spatial forms of intelligence, there are also forms that include kinesthetic or athletic intelligence, interpersonal or social–emotional intelligence, musical or artistic intelligence, and perhaps other forms we have not yet learned to measure.

Dr. Gardner teaches, conducts research, 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 development and self-esteem in African-American children.

Her doctoral work illustrated the dehumanizing effect of segregated schools on both African-American and white children, in the well-known “doll study” (Clark & Clark, 1939). She found that both African-American children and white children imputed more positive characteristics to white dolls than to Black dolls.

This work was used as evidence in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling that decided that schools separated by race were not equal and must be desegregated.

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

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

Ms. Montero Gil had been balancing subsequent 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 just some contributions that educational psychologists can make in research, teaching, legal, and advocacy contexts.

Day in the life of an educational psychologist w/ Dr. Sarah Chestnut

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

1. Behaviorism

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

In behaviorism, there is a focus on stimuli or prompts to action (your supervisor hands you a box of toy parts), followed by a behavior (you assemble the toy), followed by reinforcement or lack thereof (you receive a raise for the fastest toy assembly).

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

We should note that behaviorists believe in a pre-set, external reality that is progressively discovered by learning.

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

However, one of the most robust developments in the later behaviorist tradition is that of positive behavioral intervention and supports (PBIS), in which proactive techniques play a prominent role in enhancing learning within schools.

Such proactive behavioral supports include maximizing structure in classrooms, teaching clear behavioral expectations in advance, regularly using prompts with students, and actively supervising students (Simonsen & Myers, 2015).

Over 2,500 schools across the United States now apply the PBIS supportive behavioral framework, with documented improvements in both student behavior (Bradshaw, Waasdorp, & Leaf, 2012) and achievement (Madigan, Cross, Smolkowski, & Stryker, 2016).

2. Cognitivism

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

It also developed partly as a reaction to the perceived limits of the behaviorist model of learning, which was thought not to account for mental processes.

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

Cognitivists are keenly interested in a neuronal or a brain-to-behavior perspective on learning and memory. Their lines of research often include studies involving functional brain imaging (e.g., functional magnetic resonance imaging) to see which brain circuits are activated during specific learning tasks.

Cognitivists are also keenly interested in “neuroplasticity,” or how learning causes new connections to be made between individual brain cells (neurons) and their broader neuronal networks.

From the cognitivist perspective, individuals are viewed as very active in the learning process, including how they organize information to make it personally meaningful and memorable.

Cognitivists, like behaviorists, believe that learning reflects an external reality, rather than shaping or constructing reality.

3. Constructivism

Constructivism holds that from childhood on, humans learn in successive stages (Piaget, 1955).

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

For example, based on certain experiences as a child, you might form the schematic concept that all objects drop when you let them go. But let’s say you get a helium balloon that rises when you let go of it. You must then adjust your schema to capture this new reality that “most things drop when I let go of them, but at least one thing rises when I let go of it.”

For constructivists, there is always a subjective component to how reality is organized. From this perspective, learning cannot be said to reflect a pre-set external reality. Rather, reality is always an interplay between one’s active construction of the world and the world itself.

Educational College

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

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

This study reflects a constructivist approach, emphasizing how students create meaning out of 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 and Reich (2017) found that sending learners regular prompts to complete online work resulted in a 29% increase in courses completed. They concluded that sending regular reminder prompts is an inexpensive and effective way to enhance online course completion.

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

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

For example, Takeuchi, Mori, Suzukamo, and Izumi (2019) studied brain activity in teachers and students while teachers provided hints for solving a visual–spatial problem (assembling puzzles).

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

For the student participants, the prefrontal cortex was significantly activated when they had solved the puzzle with hints provided.

This study emphasizes a cognitivist approach, focused on brain activity during learning.

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

Educational and school psychologists overlap in their training and functions, to some extent, 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 consulting activities.

As consultants, educational psychologists work with organizations such as school districts, militaries, or corporations in developing the best methods for instructional needs.

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

About 80% of school psychologists work in public school settings and do direct interventions with individuals or small groups.

They help with testing and supporting students with special needs, helping teachers develop classroom management strategies, and engaging in individual or group counseling, which can include crisis counseling and emotional–behavioral support.

Lev Vygotsky

One idea central to Vygotsky’s learning theory is that of the zone of proximal development (ZPD).

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

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

The ZPD is a zone of emerging skills, which calls for its own kind of exploration and measurement, in order to better understand a learner’s potential (Moll, 2014).

Vygotsky was also interested in the relationship between thought and language. He theorized that much of thought comprised internalized language or “inner speech.” Like Piaget, whose work he read with interest, Vygotsky came to see language as having social origins, which would then become internalized as inner speech.

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

what is educational psychology essay

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As mentioned in the discussion of Nathaniel Gage’s theory of effective teaching, student motivation is an important component to assess and encourage.

The Who Am I Self-Reflection can help students and their teachers think about what they are good at, what significant challenges they have been confronted with, and what inspires them. This knowledge can help both teachers and students find ways to enhance motivation in specific cases.

As noted above, the cognitivist approach to educational psychology includes understanding how the brain learns by forming new connections between neurons. The Adopt A Growth Mindset activity is a simple guide to replacing fixed mindset thinking with growth statements. It can inspire adults to learn by referencing their inherent neuroplasticity.

The idea is that with enough effort and repetition, we can form new and durable connections within our brains of a positive and adaptive nature.

For parents and teachers, we recommend Dr. Gabriella Lancia’s article on Healthy Discipline Strategies for Teaching & Inspiring Children . This article offers basic and effective strategies and worksheets for creating a positive behavioral climate at home and school that is pro-social and pro-learning.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, this signature collection contains 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

The field of educational psychology has ancient roots and remains vibrant today.

Today, there are many programs across the world providing quality training in educational psychology at the master’s, doctoral, and postdoctoral levels.

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

In addition, job satisfaction in educational psychology and related fields such as school psychology has traditionally been high, including as it concerns social impact, independence, and compensation (Worrell, Skaggs, & Brown, 2006).

Those with a doctorate in educational psychology have potential for a broad impact on learners of any and every type. They often teach at the college or university level, conduct research and publish on various topics in the field, or consult with various organizations about the best teaching and learning methods.

Researchers in educational psychology have made important contributions to contemporary education and culture, from learning paradigms (behaviorism, cognitivism, constructionism) and the theory of multiple intelligences, to proactive school-wide positive behavioral supports.

We hope you have learned more about the rich field of educational psychology from this brief article and will find the resources it contains useful. Don’t forget to download our free Positive Psychology Exercises .

  • Brown v. Board of Education , 347 U.S. (1954).
  • Bradshaw, C. P., Waasdorp, T. E., & Leaf, P. J. (2012). Effects of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports on child behavior problems. Pediatrics , 130 (5), e1136–e1145.
  • Clark, K., & Clark, M. (1939). The development of consciousness of self and the emergence of racial identification in Negro preschool children. Journal of Social Psychology ,  10 (4), 591–599.
  • Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (2013). Behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly , 26 (2), 43–71.
  • Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences . Basic Books.
  • Gardner, H. (2000). The disciplined mind: Beyond facts and standardized tests, the education that every child deserves . Penguin Books.
  • Grinder, R. E. (1989). Educational psychology: The master science. In M. C. Wittrock & F. Farley (Eds.), The future of educational psychology (pp. 3–18). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Madigan, K., Cross, R. W., Smolkowski, K., & Stryker, L. A. (2016). Association between schoolwide positive behavioural interventions and supports and academic achievement: A 9-year evaluation. Educational Research and Evaluation , 22 (7–8), 402–421.
  • Moll, L. C. (2014). L. S. Vygotsky and education . Routledge.
  • Neisser, U. (1967). Cognitive psychology . Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  • Piaget, J. (1955). The child’s construction of reality . Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Simonsen, B., & Myers, D. (2015). Classwide positive behavior interventions and supports: A guide to proactive classroom management . Guilford Publications.
  • Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis . B. F. Skinner Foundation.
  • Takeuchi, N., Mori, T., Suzukamo, Y., & Izumi, S. I. (2019). Activity of prefrontal cortex in teachers and students during teaching of an insight problem. Mind, Brain, and Education , 13 , 167–175.
  • Worrell, T. G., Skaggs, G. E., & Brown, M. B. (2006). School psychologists’ job satisfaction: A 22-year perspective in the USA. School Psychology International , 27 (2), 131–145.
  • Yeomans, M., & Reich, J. (2017). Planning prompts increase and forecast course completion in massive open online courses. Conference: The Seventh International Learning Analytics & Knowledge Conference , pp. 464–473.
  • Zysberg, L., & Schwabsky, N. (2020). School climate, academic self-efficacy and student achievement . Educational Psychology. Taylor & Francis Online.

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What Is Educational Psychology?

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

what is educational psychology essay

Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.

what is educational psychology essay

  • Major Perspectives
  • Topics of Study

Frequently Asked Questions

Educational psychology is the study of how people learn , including teaching methods, instructional processes, and individual differences in learning. It explores the cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and social influences on the learning process. Educational psychologists use this understanding of how people learn to develop instructional strategies and help students succeed in school.

This branch of psychology focuses on the learning process of early childhood and adolescence. However, it also explores the social, emotional, and cognitive processes that are involved in learning throughout the entire lifespan.

The field of educational psychology incorporates a number of other disciplines, including developmental psychology , behavioral psychology , and cognitive psychology . Approaches to educational psychology include behavioral, developmental, cognitive, constructivist, and experiential perspectives.

This article discusses some of the different perspectives taken within the field of educational psychology, topics that educational psychologists study, and career options in this field.

8 Things to Know About Educational Psychology

Perspectives in educational psychology.

As with other areas of psychology, researchers within educational psychology tend to take on different perspectives when considering a problem. These perspectives focus on specific factors that influence learning, including learned behaviors, cognition, experiences, and more.

The Behavioral Perspective

This perspective suggests that all behaviors are learned through conditioning. Psychologists who take this perspective rely firmly on the principles of operant conditioning to explain how learning happens.

For example, teachers might reward learning by giving students tokens that can be exchanged for desirable items such as candy or toys. The behavioral perspective operates on the theory that students will learn when rewarded for "good" behavior and punished for "bad" behavior.

While such methods can be useful in some cases, the behavioral approach has been criticized for failing to account for attitudes , emotions, and intrinsic motivations for learning.

The Developmental Perspective

This perspective focuses on how children acquire new skills and knowledge as they develop. Jean Piaget's stages of cognitive development is one example of an important developmental theory looking at how children grow intellectually.

By understanding how children think at different stages of development, educational psychologists can better understand what children are capable of at each point of their growth. This can help educators create instructional methods and materials aimed at certain age groups.

The Cognitive Perspective

The cognitive approach has become much more widespread, mainly because it accounts for how factors such as memories, beliefs, emotions , and motivations contribute to the learning process. This theory supports the idea that a person learns as a result of their own motivation, not as a result of external rewards.

Cognitive psychology aims to understand how people think, learn, remember, and process information.

Educational psychologists who take a cognitive perspective are interested in understanding how kids become motivated to learn, how they remember the things that they learn, and how they solve problems, among other topics.

The Constructivist Approach

This perspective focuses on how we actively construct our knowledge of the world. Constructivism accounts for the social and cultural influences that affect how we learn.

Those who take the constructivist approach believe that what a person already knows is the biggest influence on how they learn new information. This means that new knowledge can only be added on to and understood in terms of existing knowledge.

This perspective is heavily influenced by the work of psychologist Lev Vygotsky , who proposed ideas such as the zone of proximal development and instructional scaffolding.

Experiential Perspective

This perspective emphasizes that a person's own life experiences influence how they understand new information. This method is similar to constructivist and cognitive perspectives in that it takes into consideration the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of the learner.

This method allows someone to find personal meaning in what they learn instead of feeling that the information doesn't apply to them.

Different perspectives on human behavior can be useful when looking at topics within the field of educational psychology. Some of these include the behavioral perspective, the constructivist approach, and the experiential perspective.

Topics in Educational Psychology

From the materials teachers use to the individual needs of students, educational psychologists delve deep to more fully understand the learning process. Some these topics of study in educational psychology include:

  • Educational technology : Looking at how different types of technology can help students learn
  • Instructional design : Designing effective learning materials
  • Special education : Helping students who may need specialized instruction
  • Curriculum development : Creating coursework that will maximize learning
  • Organizational learning : Studying how people learn in organizational settings, such as workplaces
  • Gifted learners : Helping students who are identified as gifted learners

Careers in Educational Psychology

Educational psychologists work with educators, administrators, teachers, and students to analyze how to help people learn best. This often involves finding ways to identify students who may need extra help, developing programs for students who are struggling, and even creating new learning methods .

Many educational psychologists work with schools directly. Some are teachers or professors, while others work with teachers to try out new learning methods for their students and develop new course curricula. An educational psychologist may even become a counselor, helping students cope with learning barriers directly.

Other educational psychologists work in research. For instance, they might work for a government organization such as the U.S. Department of Education, influencing decisions about the best ways for kids to learn in schools across the nation.

In addition, an educational psychologist work in school or university administration. In all of these roles, they can influence educational methods and help students learn in a way that best suits them.

A bachelor's degree and master's degree are usually required for careers in this field; if you want to work at a university or in school administration, you may need to complete a doctorate as well.

Educational psychologists often work in school to help students and teachers improve the learning experience. Other professionals in this field work in research to investigate the learning process and to evaluate programs designed to foster learning.

History of Educational Psychology

Educational psychology is a relatively young subfield that has experienced a tremendous amount of growth. Psychology did not emerge as a separate science until the late 1800s, so earlier interest in educational psychology was largely fueled by educational philosophers.

Many regard philosopher Johann Herbart as the father of educational psychology.

Herbart believed that a student's interest in a topic had a tremendous influence on the learning outcome. He believed teachers should consider this when deciding which type of instruction is most appropriate.

Later, psychologist and philosopher William James made significant contributions to the field. His seminal 1899 text "Talks to Teachers on Psychology" is considered the first textbook on educational psychology.

Around this same period, French psychologist Alfred Binet was developing his famous IQ tests. The tests were originally designed to help the French government identify children who had developmental delays and create special education programs.

In the United States, John Dewey had a significant influence on education. Dewey's ideas were progressive; he believed schools should focus on students rather than on subjects. He advocated active learning, arguing that hands-on experience was an important part of the process.

More recently, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom developed an important taxonomy designed to categorize and describe different educational objectives. The three top-level domains he described were cognitive, affective, and psychomotor learning objectives.

Significant Figures

Throughout history, a number of additional figures have played an important role in the development of educational psychology. Some of these well-known individuals include:

  • John Locke : Locke is an English philosopher who suggested the concept of tabula rasa , or the idea that the mind is essentially a blank slate at birth. This means that knowledge is developed through experience and learning.
  • Jean Piaget : A Swiss psychologist who is best known for his highly influential theory of cognitive development, Jean Piaget's influence on educational psychology is still evident today.
  • B.F. Skinner : Skinner was an American psychologist who introduced the concept of operant conditioning, which influences behaviorist perspectives. His research on reinforcement and punishment continues to play an important role in education.

Educational psychology has been influenced by a number of philosophers, psychologists, and educators. Some thinkers who had a significant influence include William James, Alfred Binet, John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Benjamin Bloom.

A Word From Verywell

Educational psychology offers valuable insights into how people learn and plays an important role in informing educational strategies and teaching methods. In addition to exploring the learning process itself, different areas of educational psychology explore the emotional, social, and cognitive factors that can influence how people learn. If you are interested in topics such as special education, curriculum design, and educational technology, then you might want to consider pursuing a career in the field of educational psychology.

A master's in educational psychology can prepare you for a career working in K-12 schools, colleges and universities, government agencies, community organizations, and counseling practices. A career as an educational psychologist involves working with children, families, schools, and other community and government agencies to create programs and resources that enhance learning. 

The primary focus of educational psychology is the study of how people learn. This includes exploring the instructional processes, studying individual differences in how people learn, and developing teaching methods to help people learn more effectively.

Educational psychology is important because it has the potential to help both students and teachers. It provides important information for educators to help them create educational experiences, measure learning, and improve student motivation.

Educational psychology can aid teachers in better understanding the principles of learning in order to design more engaging and effective lesson plans and classroom experiences. It can also foster a better understanding of how learning environments, social factors, and student motivation can influence how students learn.

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By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

Educational Psychology: Learning and Instruction

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what is educational psychology essay

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Educational psychology is a field that straddles two large domains: education and psychology. Reaching far back into antiquity, the field was borne from philosophies and theories that weaved back and forth between each domain all with the intent of understanding the way learners learn, teachers teach, and educational settings should be effectively designed. This chapter tells the story of educational psychology – its evolution, its characteristics, and the insights it provides for understanding it as a field of study, teaching it at the tertiary level of education, and leveraging its findings in the classroom. The chapter begins with a rationale for a curriculum of educational psychology, tracing its core teaching and learning objectives. It describes the topics that are core to the field, as well as the theory-based and evidence-based strategies and approaches for teaching it effectively. It discusses the basic principles of effective teaching, including problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and small-group and service-based learning, among others. Finally, it addresses technology in learning, open-university teaching and learning, and closes with a discussion of the best approaches – both theory-based and evidence-based – for assessing the core competencies of the field.

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Department of Psychology, California State University, Chico, CA, USA

Neil Schwartz & Kevin Click

Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA

Anna Bartel

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School of Education, Univ of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria

Joerg Zumbach

Department of Psychology, University of South Florida, Bonita Springs, FL, USA

Douglas Bernstein

Psychology Learning & Instruction, Technische Universität Dresden, Dresden, Sachsen, Germany

Susanne Narciss

DISUFF, University of Salerno, Salerno, Salerno, Italy

Giuseppina Marsico

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University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria

Department of Psychology, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA

Douglas A. Bernstein

Psychologie des Lehrens und Lernens, Technische Universität Dresden, Dresden, Deutschland

Department of Human, Philosophic, and Education Sciences, University of Salerno, Salerno, Italy

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Schwartz, N., Click, K., Bartel, A. (2022). Educational Psychology: Learning and Instruction. In: Zumbach, J., Bernstein, D., Narciss, S., Marsico, G. (eds) International Handbook of Psychology Learning and Teaching. Springer International Handbooks of Education. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26248-8_67-1

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What is Educational Psychology?

educational psychology

Definition of Educational Psychology

Educational psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on how people learn and the best practices to teach them.

This field involves understanding the methods and techniques to optimize learning in various educational settings, ranging from traditional classrooms to online learning environments.

Educational psychologists study the interactions between learning and environment, including social, emotional, and cognitive processes that influence learning outcomes.

Six Key Foci

1. instructional methods.

One of the key areas of focus in educational psychology is the development of instructional methods that enhance learning.

Research shows that tailored instruction based on individual learning styles can significantly impact a student’s ability to absorb and retain information.

For instance, some students learn best through visual means, such as charts and videos, while others might benefit more from hands-on activities or written materials.

Understanding these differences allows educators to design more effective teaching strategies that cater to the diverse needs of their students.

2. Role of Motivation in Learning

Another important aspect of educational psychology is the role of motivation in learning. Motivation can be intrinsic, originating within the student, such as a personal interest in a subject matter, or extrinsic, driven by external rewards like grades or praise.

Educational psychologists study techniques to foster both types of motivation to enhance engagement and educational achievement.

For example, goal-setting, self-assessment, and providing meaningful feedback are strategies that have been proven to increase intrinsic motivation and encourage continuous engagement in learning activities.

Read More: 31 Theories of Motivation

3. Behavior Management

Behavior management in the classroom is also a critical area of study within educational psychology.

Effective behavior management strategies help create a supportive learning environment that minimizes disruptions and promotes respectful and constructive interactions among students.

Techniques such as positive reinforcement, clear classroom rules, and conflict resolution are essential tools for teachers to maintain order and respect in the classroom.

4. Social and Emotional Learning

Educational psychologists also explore the impact of emotional and social factors on learning.

Emotional well-being is crucial for cognitive development and learning. Students who experience emotional difficulties may find it hard to concentrate and stay motivated.

Therefore, providing emotional support through counseling, peer mentoring, and other therapeutic interventions can be vital in helping students overcome personal challenges that affect their learning.

Read about Social-Emotional Learning Here

5. Examining Cognitive Development (Cognitive Psychology)

Cognitive development theories are central to educational psychology. These theories guide understanding of how thinking processes evolve and how these processes influence learning.

Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, for example, provides insights into how children perceive the world at different stages of their development and how these perceptions influence their learning process.

According to Piaget, children move through four stages of cognitive development, each characterized by changes in understanding and abilities.

Teachers can use this knowledge to create age-appropriate learning experiences that align with the cognitive abilities of their students.

Chart: Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development

6. Assessment and Evaluation of Learning

Lastly, educational psychology pays close attention to assessments and evaluations. These tools are not only used to measure students’ knowledge and skills but also to inform ongoing instructional strategies.

Effective assessment helps identify areas where students are struggling and where they excel, allowing for targeted interventions that support learning and growth.

Moreover, assessments can be used to evaluate the efficacy of educational programs and interventions, providing feedback that can lead to curriculum improvements and enhanced teaching methods.

Examples of Educational Psychology

  • Cognitive Development : Observing how students’ cognitive abilities affect their learning to adapt teaching methods. Educational psychologists study developmental stages to optimize how content is delivered based on age and cognitive readiness.
  • Behaviorism : Using reward systems in classrooms to reinforce desirable behavior and learning outcomes. This stems from behaviorist theories in educational psychology that emphasize the use of positive reinforcement to shape behavior.
  • Assessment : Creating and analyzing tests to measure student learning and performance. Educational psychologists apply theories of measurement and assessment to ensure that tests are valid and reliable reflections of what students have learned.
  • Goal Setting Theory : Assisting students in setting specific educational goals, which helps increase their motivation and performance. Educational psychologists use goal-setting theory to teach students how to effectively set and pursue goals, enhancing their academic achievement.
  • Classroom Management : Implementing strategies for managing classroom behavior, which involves understanding group dynamics and individual behaviors. Educational psychologists study these dynamics to develop techniques that maintain a productive learning environment.
  • Technology in Education : Integrating digital tools and resources to enhance learning. Educational psychologists explore how technological tools can support various learning styles and improve educational outcomes.
  • Emotional and Social Learning : Understanding the impact of emotions and social interactions on learning. Educational psychologists apply theories of emotional intelligence and social learning to help students develop these essential skills for academic and personal success.

Educational psychology provides critical insights that help shape effective teaching and learning practices. By understanding the various factors that influence learning, from cognitive development to emotional support, educational psychologists play a vital role in enhancing educational experiences and outcomes. This field continues to evolve, incorporating new research findings to better understand and respond to the educational needs of students in an ever-changing world.


Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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Educational Psychology in Learning and Teaching Essay

Course summary.

A course in educational psychology has helped me as a teacher in learning how to completely comprehend and tackle daily challenges in a typical class setting. Fundamentally, this course focuses on tenets of learning and teaching in a classroom. From my experience in this course, I have realized that education psychology entails more than just the use of psychological techniques in learning and teaching.

As such, it is a course that immensely impacts on both learning of instructors and students. Contrary to the olden perspectives, the study book Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective by Dale H. Schunk points out that both teachers and learners should fittingly be seen as thinkers.

Knowledge of Research Methodologies and Data-Driven Decision-Making

Prior to this course, my knowledge of research methodologies and data-driven decision-making was not satisfactory, especially in dealing with modern classroom characterized by students from multiracial and multicultural backgrounds.

Thus, this course has significantly helped me as a teacher in studying and applying modern research methodologies and suppositions, practices and plans which emphasize on the use of both quantitative and qualitative methods in improving learning outcomes.

As a student, I have developed knowledge of a number of procedures necessary for conducting study in teaching and analyzing the resultant data. Besides improving the efficiency of instructional methods, this knowledge will also help me in promoting cohesion among students and staff.

My understanding of data-driven decision making from this course has also been of considerable help. The topic on data-driven decision making has aided me in planning and implementing student-centered instructional techniques, tracking supplies, identifying viable instructional techniques, and improving interaction among parties entailed in the learning procedure.

Thus, a course in educational psychology has provided me with a chance of collecting and analyzing data that are linked to learning challenges in various settings.

Description of Theories Learned From This Course Experience

The course has instilled in me appreciable knowledge of children’s various levels of development, including, language, cognitive, moral, and psychosocial developments as postulated by theorists such as Jean Piaget and Rudolf Steiner. Throughout the course, I have learned how individuals’ learning process can be explained by four major learning theories.

These include constructivism, cognitivism, behaviorism, and social cognitive theory. As shown by Schunk (2012), constructivism postulates that a learner creates learning. This theory has three important concepts: dialectical, endogenous, and exogenous. Dialectical concept indicates that students learn by interacting with individuals in their surrounding.

Endogenous concept, on the other hand, holds that learning is influenced by experience and not by individuals’ surrounding. This is contrary to exogenous concept which argues that learning is fully influenced by one’s surrounding.

However as shown by Schunk (2004) “learning in a constructivist setting is not allowing students to do whatever they want. Rather, constructivist environments should create rich experiences that encourage students to learn” (p. 316).

Cognitivism holds that the structure of memory determines the manner in which an individual perceives, processes, stores, retrieves, and forgets information. Thus, according to this theory, students actively participate in the learning process. Also, learning is not largely unaffected by environmental factors. Further, this theory emphasizes that storage of information occurs inform of short-term or long-term memories.

Other theories include behaviorism and social cognitive theory. Experiments by Skinner, Thondike, Watson, and Pavlov indicate how learning is influenced by recognizable behavior as postulated by behaviorism. This theory explains how stimulus and response influence learning process.

Social cognitive theory, on the other hand, posits that effective learning occurs when individuals are in a group, since humans are social beings hence like copying from each other (Schunk, 2012).

The Choice of Social Cognitive Theory

Of the four learning theories, I tend to concur mainly with social cognitive theory. This theory proves that learning occur best when students are working in teams since understanding is both a cultural and social process. This will help me identify social environments that can facilitate learning in a multicultural classroom.

Questions Still Lingering on the Subjects and Topics in This Course

Educational psychology is a very informative course, however, some questions still linger. For instance, as a teacher, I have realized that the course does not cater for means transferring psychological knowledge to real life situation.

Also, in this modern day, besides the theories, the educational psychologists should consider the understanding and ideas of soon-to-be tutors. Without finding a redress to these challenges, educational psychology course will not sufficiently cater for the needs of modern teaching staff and students in a multicultural environments.

Reference List

Schunk, D.H. (2012). Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective (6 th Ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Schunk, D.H. (2004). Learning theories: An educational perspective (4th Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

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How to Write a Psychology Essay

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Editor-in-Chief for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, PhD., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years of experience in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

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Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

On This Page:

Before you write your essay, it’s important to analyse the task and understand exactly what the essay question is asking. Your lecturer may give you some advice – pay attention to this as it will help you plan your answer.

Next conduct preliminary reading based on your lecture notes. At this stage, it’s not crucial to have a robust understanding of key theories or studies, but you should at least have a general “gist” of the literature.

After reading, plan a response to the task. This plan could be in the form of a mind map, a summary table, or by writing a core statement (which encompasses the entire argument of your essay in just a few sentences).

After writing your plan, conduct supplementary reading, refine your plan, and make it more detailed.

It is tempting to skip these preliminary steps and write the first draft while reading at the same time. However, reading and planning will make the essay writing process easier, quicker, and ensure a higher quality essay is produced.

Components of a Good Essay

Now, let us look at what constitutes a good essay in psychology. There are a number of important features.
  • Global Structure – structure the material to allow for a logical sequence of ideas. Each paragraph / statement should follow sensibly from its predecessor. The essay should “flow”. The introduction, main body and conclusion should all be linked.
  • Each paragraph should comprise a main theme, which is illustrated and developed through a number of points (supported by evidence).
  • Knowledge and Understanding – recognize, recall, and show understanding of a range of scientific material that accurately reflects the main theoretical perspectives.
  • Critical Evaluation – arguments should be supported by appropriate evidence and/or theory from the literature. Evidence of independent thinking, insight, and evaluation of the evidence.
  • Quality of Written Communication – writing clearly and succinctly with appropriate use of paragraphs, spelling, and grammar. All sources are referenced accurately and in line with APA guidelines.

In the main body of the essay, every paragraph should demonstrate both knowledge and critical evaluation.

There should also be an appropriate balance between these two essay components. Try to aim for about a 60/40 split if possible.

Most students make the mistake of writing too much knowledge and not enough evaluation (which is the difficult bit).

It is best to structure your essay according to key themes. Themes are illustrated and developed through a number of points (supported by evidence).

Choose relevant points only, ones that most reveal the theme or help to make a convincing and interesting argument.

essay structure example

Knowledge and Understanding

Remember that an essay is simply a discussion / argument on paper. Don’t make the mistake of writing all the information you know regarding a particular topic.

You need to be concise, and clearly articulate your argument. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences.

Each paragraph should have a purpose / theme, and make a number of points – which need to be support by high quality evidence. Be clear why each point is is relevant to the argument. It would be useful at the beginning of each paragraph if you explicitly outlined the theme being discussed (.e.g. cognitive development, social development etc.).

Try not to overuse quotations in your essays. It is more appropriate to use original content to demonstrate your understanding.

Psychology is a science so you must support your ideas with evidence (not your own personal opinion). If you are discussing a theory or research study make sure you cite the source of the information.

Note this is not the author of a textbook you have read – but the original source / author(s) of the theory or research study.

For example:

Bowlby (1951) claimed that mothering is almost useless if delayed until after two and a half to three years and, for most children, if delayed till after 12 months, i.e. there is a critical period.
Maslow (1943) stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled a person seeks to fullfil the next one, and so on.

As a general rule, make sure there is at least one citation (i.e. name of psychologist and date of publication) in each paragraph.

Remember to answer the essay question. Underline the keywords in the essay title. Don’t make the mistake of simply writing everything you know of a particular topic, be selective. Each paragraph in your essay should contribute to answering the essay question.

Critical Evaluation

In simple terms, this means outlining the strengths and limitations of a theory or research study.

There are many ways you can critically evaluate:

Methodological evaluation of research

Is the study valid / reliable ? Is the sample biased, or can we generalize the findings to other populations? What are the strengths and limitations of the method used and data obtained?

Be careful to ensure that any methodological criticisms are justified and not trite.

Rather than hunting for weaknesses in every study; only highlight limitations that make you doubt the conclusions that the authors have drawn – e.g., where an alternative explanation might be equally likely because something hasn’t been adequately controlled.

Compare or contrast different theories

Outline how the theories are similar and how they differ. This could be two (or more) theories of personality / memory / child development etc. Also try to communicate the value of the theory / study.

Debates or perspectives

Refer to debates such as nature or nurture, reductionism vs. holism, or the perspectives in psychology . For example, would they agree or disagree with a theory or the findings of the study?

What are the ethical issues of the research?

Does a study involve ethical issues such as deception, privacy, psychological or physical harm?

Gender bias

If research is biased towards men or women it does not provide a clear view of the behavior that has been studied. A dominantly male perspective is known as an androcentric bias.

Cultural bias

Is the theory / study ethnocentric? Psychology is predominantly a white, Euro-American enterprise. In some texts, over 90% of studies have US participants, who are predominantly white and middle class.

Does the theory or study being discussed judge other cultures by Western standards?

Animal Research

This raises the issue of whether it’s morally and/or scientifically right to use animals. The main criterion is that benefits must outweigh costs. But benefits are almost always to humans and costs to animals.

Animal research also raises the issue of extrapolation. Can we generalize from studies on animals to humans as their anatomy & physiology is different from humans?

The PEC System

It is very important to elaborate on your evaluation. Don’t just write a shopping list of brief (one or two sentence) evaluation points.

Instead, make sure you expand on your points, remember, quality of evaluation is most important than quantity.

When you are writing an evaluation paragraph, use the PEC system.

  • Make your P oint.
  • E xplain how and why the point is relevant.
  • Discuss the C onsequences / implications of the theory or study. Are they positive or negative?

For Example

  • Point: It is argued that psychoanalytic therapy is only of benefit to an articulate, intelligent, affluent minority.
  • Explain: Because psychoanalytic therapy involves talking and gaining insight, and is costly and time-consuming, it is argued that it is only of benefit to an articulate, intelligent, affluent minority. Evidence suggests psychoanalytic therapy works best if the client is motivated and has a positive attitude.
  • Consequences: A depressed client’s apathy, flat emotional state, and lack of motivation limit the appropriateness of psychoanalytic therapy for depression.

Furthermore, the levels of dependency of depressed clients mean that transference is more likely to develop.

Using Research Studies in your Essays

Research studies can either be knowledge or evaluation.
  • If you refer to the procedures and findings of a study, this shows knowledge and understanding.
  • If you comment on what the studies shows, and what it supports and challenges about the theory in question, this shows evaluation.

Writing an Introduction

It is often best to write your introduction when you have finished the main body of the essay, so that you have a good understanding of the topic area.

If there is a word count for your essay try to devote 10% of this to your introduction.

Ideally, the introduction should;

Identify the subject of the essay and define the key terms. Highlight the major issues which “lie behind” the question. Let the reader know how you will focus your essay by identifying the main themes to be discussed. “Signpost” the essay’s key argument, (and, if possible, how this argument is structured).

Introductions are very important as first impressions count and they can create a h alo effect in the mind of the lecturer grading your essay. If you start off well then you are more likely to be forgiven for the odd mistake later one.

Writing a Conclusion

So many students either forget to write a conclusion or fail to give it the attention it deserves.

If there is a word count for your essay try to devote 10% of this to your conclusion.

Ideally the conclusion should summarize the key themes / arguments of your essay. State the take home message – don’t sit on the fence, instead weigh up the evidence presented in the essay and make a decision which side of the argument has more support.

Also, you might like to suggest what future research may need to be conducted and why (read the discussion section of journal articles for this).

Don”t include new information / arguments (only information discussed in the main body of the essay).

If you are unsure of what to write read the essay question and answer it in one paragraph.

Points that unite or embrace several themes can be used to great effect as part of your conclusion.

The Importance of Flow

Obviously, what you write is important, but how you communicate your ideas / arguments has a significant influence on your overall grade. Most students may have similar information / content in their essays, but the better students communicate this information concisely and articulately.

When you have finished the first draft of your essay you must check if it “flows”. This is an important feature of quality of communication (along with spelling and grammar).

This means that the paragraphs follow a logical order (like the chapters in a novel). Have a global structure with themes arranged in a way that allows for a logical sequence of ideas. You might want to rearrange (cut and paste) paragraphs to a different position in your essay if they don”t appear to fit in with the essay structure.

To improve the flow of your essay make sure the last sentence of one paragraph links to first sentence of the next paragraph. This will help the essay flow and make it easier to read.

Finally, only repeat citations when it is unclear which study / theory you are discussing. Repeating citations unnecessarily disrupts the flow of an essay.


The reference section is the list of all the sources cited in the essay (in alphabetical order). It is not a bibliography (a list of the books you used).

In simple terms every time you cite/refer to a name (and date) of a psychologist you need to reference the original source of the information.

If you have been using textbooks this is easy as the references are usually at the back of the book and you can just copy them down. If you have been using websites, then you may have a problem as they might not provide a reference section for you to copy.

References need to be set out APA style :

Author, A. A. (year). Title of work . Location: Publisher.

Journal Articles

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (year). Article title. Journal Title, volume number (issue number), page numbers

A simple way to write your reference section is use Google scholar . Just type the name and date of the psychologist in the search box and click on the “cite” link.


Next, copy and paste the APA reference into the reference section of your essay.

apa reference

Once again, remember that references need to be in alphabetical order according to surname.

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What Is Educational Psychology and Why Is It Important

what is educational psychology essay

Educational psychology can be summed up as the set of methods and strategies that strive for an improvement of how education is perceived by teachers, parents, and students. The purpose is to offer help and solutions that work as one creates certain educational experiences, adjusts existing learning methods, and keeps the learners inspired. The pandemic times and online learning have helped to set new objectives by addressing limitations and explaining what could be done and how exactly. It is the essence of educational psychology – to suggest, analyze and achieve educational aims in the most efficient way. 

Why is Educational Psychology Important?

Before exploring the benefits and the importance of educational psychology, one must realize that each student is an individual who may not be able to adjust to the common identifier. We all understand things differently and may not be able to follow the same instructions. This is where educational psychology enters the equation by addressing the best ways an educator can help a student learn and understand the concepts and overcome personal challenges, fears, and apprehensions. 

Educational Psychology Explores How Students Learn

It often involves compare-and-contrast methods as an individual is compared to the rest of the group or two bright students are compared to identify the differences. It helps educators to see what might require an urgent change or what methods have proved themselves as efficient. Such a method requires analytical work and time to identify the sample group and take relevant notes that make the research balanced and less partial. 

Remember the difficulties that may occur while teaching ESL students. Sometimes they may not properly garb the idea of the task or complete it incorrectly. In case any teacher needs help with the translation of the curriculum into another language, it is wise to get professional translation help from services like TheWordPoint . An expert translator will translate any educational materials you need and will save you from miscommunication with your ESL students. It is also a great idea to hire a translator permanently for some school needs. You can discuss this idea with a head teacher.

It Offers Introspection or Self-Observation Methods

This method is mostly aimed at educators and the parents of the students that require specific learning assistance (think autistic or special needs learners), yet more and more learners turn to reflective writing and special journals to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Starting with an observation task may seem a bit challenging at first, which is why many students choose to seek online help as they overcome various learning difficulties. The psychological effect of such an action is easy to explain, as students eliminate the factor of stress and of being identified as they ask for help. 

Clinical Psychology Aspect

Also known as the “case study analysis”, this branch of educational psychology focuses on the mental health of students. It has been especially important during times of social isolation and online learning when most students had confidence-related challenges as they did not feel comfortable when learning at home. The educators also relate here if one takes a look at the technical gap or inability to work with the latest technology. Clinical psychology in education also addresses exam stress issues or college depression cases, among other things. The purpose here is to identify the reasons and explain why the fears and anxiety take place. 

New Development Methods and Observations

Flexibility is one of the most important elements of modern educational psychology. While it studies the behavioral patterns of a student, it also helps to identify and develop new learning methods that can help to inspire. It is especially relevant when one is dealing with the younger learners or first-year college students, who are still used to the teacher’s control and the strict school guidelines. As a rule, it still includes observation and analysis of the changes, since developmental psychology must be approached in retrospect or through the lens of prognosis. 

Experimental Methods

This branch of educational psychology relates to a method when educators implement an independent variable when dealing with a dependent variable. In other words, teachers address more than one learning method to identify how they can have a positive impact on the cognitive functions of students as a group. As an experimental approach, it helps to increase the motivation and involvement of students in various team projects. The primary purpose of experimental psychology in education is to find out what learning methods can assist students as they learn about cooperation.

Accessibility Issues

Educational psychology also addresses various accessibility issues that go beyond having access to technology. It helps to address mental health issues and learning challenges that aren’t always identified. It also addresses negative learning aspects like bullying or classroom harassment. The purpose of educators is to identify the triggers and take action by doing so privately and in a way that will not make the problem an issue that is widely discussed by other students. 

Summing things up, one can see that educational psychology helps to identify the learning potentials of the learners and make relevant changes to the educational process. It also allows teachers to assess students and track their progress in a less biased way. Another important aspect worth mentioning is an adjustment of the curriculum based on the demands of the learners. It paves the way for solving educational problems as the cognitive functions are being addressed. Most importantly, educational psychology helps to identify and overcome the mental barriers that prevent students from learning and processing information. 

Emotional Commitment and Sense of Belonging

The primary purpose of educational psychology is to show how one can learn and retain knowledge by feeling emotional attachment. Psychological science is applied as a way to address the difficulties of the learning process. When a hypothetical learning model remains static, students do not feel motivated and cannot connect the proverbial dots that help them to belong. Educational psychology turns to more engaging learning methods that implement examples and let students take the lead. Once such a method is used in the classroom, the learners use various social factors as a way to voice their opinion. It brings in the element of flexibility, thus affecting the psycho-emotional state of the learner. 

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Educational Psychology Overview

Educational Psychology…..advancing theory and methods to better learning and performance.

Educational psychology is the study of how humans learn and retain knowledge, primarily in educational settings like classrooms. This includes emotional, social, and cognitive learning processes. Areas of focus might include teaching, testing and assessment methods, psychometrics, classroom or learning environments, and learning, social, and behavioral problems that may impede learning, technology in learning. Graduates work as professors, education specialists, learning analysts, program evaluators, and find positions in research institutions, school systems, the testing industry, government agencies, and private industry.

The mission of Educational Psychology at WSU is to produce successful professionals in educational psychology who have strong methodological skills, understanding of researchable topics, the ability to develop a research program, effectively communicate and work with a wide variety of professionals, and skills to understand nuance and ambiguity in the work environment.

We train students within educational psychology to be excellent consumers and producers of research in order to address challenging educational problems.  These students gain a deep understanding of learning theory and methods to allow them to contribute to both theory and practice in the domain in which they select to work.  The work in such areas may be awarded, for example, by the  ability to make contributions to the improvement of educational settings (e.g., schools, universities), to have a direct influence on individuals through the development of programs, methods, and tools to meet their needs, or to provide information to individuals who shape policy. Thus, we seek individuals who will first meet challenging academic standards for entrance and show promise for success in the exciting field of educational psychology.

Our programs

Our program offers two degree options with a specialization in Educational Psychology; the Master of Arts (M.A.) and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) . The M.A. and Ph.D. programs culminate with the writing and oral defense of a formal thesis or dissertation. Students pursuing a master’s degree can expect to complete the program in two years and doctoral students can expect to finish in three to five years beyond the master’s degree.

The core requirements in Research, Evaluation, Measurement, Learning and Cognition provide students with a solid academic foundation. Programs afford some flexibility to tailor course work to individual student preferences and research options. Through faculty and student partnerships across campus, the program provides an exciting, interdisciplinary atmosphere for course and field study.

Graduates in educational psychology can expect employment in private firms, school districts, universities, business, industry, or state agencies. For example, graduates work for: test companies as researchers, university as professors and researchers, and assessment offices across the United States.

Our Ph.D. program equips students with the knowledge of learning theories and strong methodological, evaluation and assessment skills to conduct research on diverse issues relevant to education and beyond. Students are expected to integrate theoretical understanding with research and internship opportunities offered by the university to solve educational problems and improve policy and practice. The Educational Psychology faculty are committed to mentoring graduate students to develop their own body of research, publish in top tier journals, present at conferences and gain career-related skills. Students can also obtain research methods certificates while completing their master’s work in the Learning and Performance Research Center as well as research laboratories directed by Educational Psychology faculty.

For more information, you can email us at  [email protected]  or complete this short  survey  and a faculty member will contact you.

What Is Educational Psychology?

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Educational psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the processes and problems that influence learning. By understanding how people absorb and retain information, educational psychologists can inform instructional processes and help ensure improved academic outcomes for students, regardless of their abilities, resources, or environments. This is especially important for students with disabilities, who are affected to varying degrees by a range of developmental challenges.

The origins of educational psychology can be traced back to Aristotle and Plato, but it’s psychologists like Jean Piaget who laid the foundations for one of the most important principles of educational psychology: knowledge can’t simply be given. Teachers can present information in an engaging and relevant manner, but it’s ultimately up to the student to learn and retain information. This is the idea behind the constructivist theory, a theory of learning that asserts that students can only learn by building upon previous knowledge. Cooperative learning is another key principle of constructivist theory and is the idea that students will more easily overcome problems and comprehend lessons if they are able to work through them in groups.

Although a number of other theories, including the cognitive learning theory, shape how lessons are taught across the United States, the idea that a student is an active participant in their learning experience is continuing to shape how students with special needs are taught in the classroom.

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I am a post graduate in English from Kashmir University . I have been teaching literature for last 15 years and now working with Foundation World School as English Mentor

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How to Become an Educational Psychologist

what is educational psychology essay

Knowing what to expect can give you a big help if you’re considering being an educational psychologist. During our journeys, we mostly had to learn along the way, and now we’re putting everything we know in one place to help you. Here’s how to become educational psychologists.

Educational psychology is a dynamic field that combines the science of psychology with educational practice. Seeing how your understanding of human development and cognitive psychology can directly enhance learning experiences is fascinating.

Woman playing together with a child

The Role of an Educational Psychologist

As an educational psychologist, your focus is on observing, analyzing, and fostering the learning processes. Your primary role involves:

  • Assessment : Diagnosing learning difficulties and giftedness.
  • Intervention : Implementing strategies to improve educational outcomes.
  • Research : Studying teaching methods, learning styles, and educational materials to optimize the learning environment.

You’ll often collaborate with teachers, parents, and administrators to create supportive educational settings.

Cognitive Development and Learning

Cognitive development is central to educational psychology  because it influences how you understand a student’s learning journey. Key concepts include:

  • Information Processing : How students perceive, think, and remember information.
  • Stages of Development : Recognizing that learning abilities change as students grow.
  • Problem-Solving Skills : Teaching strategies that enhance critical thinking and adaptability.

Understanding these areas enables you to tailor educational experiences that respect individual learning needs and foster intellectual growth.

Becoming an Educational Psychologist

Embarking on a career as an educational psychologist  entails a structured educational path coupled with hands-on experience to understand and support the cognitive development of children and adults. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to go about it.

Study for a Bachelor’s in Psychology

Embarking on the journey to become an educational psychologist begins with obtaining your bachelor’s degree in psychology . During this foundational four-year program, you’ll explore various facets of psychology , laying the groundwork for your future specialization.

Core Curriculum:

  • Developmental Psychology : Understand growth and behavior across the lifespan.
  • Statistics : Learn to analyze and interpret psychological data.
  • Cognitive Psychology : Examine mental processes like memory and problem-solving.
  • Foundations of Psychology : Know the discipline’s history and key theories.
  • Abnormal Psychology : Study behaviors that diverge from the norm.

As you progress, emphasize courses relevant to educational psychology, such as learning theories and child development. These will be integral to your deeper studies and eventual practice.

Consider Undergraduate Interning

As you become an educational psychologist, it’s vital to recognize that classroom learning is just one part of your educational journey. Internships during your undergraduate studies provide invaluable real-world experience, enhancing the knowledge you gain from your psychology coursework.

Here’s why interning matters:

  • Exposure : Internships allow you to see firsthand the different environments where educational psychologists operate, such as schools, clinics, and research facilities.
  • Practical Experience : You’ll have the chance to observe professional educational psychologists at work and understand the complexities of their day-to-day responsibilities.
  • Networking : These opportunities connect you with professionals in the field, which can benefit future job prospects or mentorship.
  • Skill Development : Applying theoretical knowledge in practical settings helps you develop critical skills like interpersonal communication and detailed observation.

Here’s how to find internships:

  • University Resources : Explore your university’s career services , which often have listings and partnerships with organizations looking for interns.
  • Professional Conferences : Attend psychology conferences and workshops to meet potential internship providers and learn about emerging opportunities.
  • Direct Outreach : Identify clinics and educational institutions you are interested in and contact them directly to inquire about internship possibilities.

Woman holding books and binders on her way to class

Earn a Master’s Degree in Educational Psychology

After obtaining your bachelor’s degree in psychology, the next pivotal step in becoming an educational psychologist is to pursue your master’s degree. This typically requires two years of study and immerses you in specialized knowledge critical for your future role.

Throughout your master’s program, you’ll encounter an array of courses tailored to expand your understanding of human learning and behavior. Expect to cover:

  • Cognitive Psychology : Understand the workings of the mind and how individuals think, learn, and remember.
  • Child Development : Learn how children grow psychologically and how this impacts their learning.
  • Behavior Analysis : Study how behavior can be assessed and modified within educational settings.
  • Psychological Assessment : Get to grips with evaluating and diagnosing learning needs.

Before applying to a master’s program , ensure the institution is accredited. Excellence in past academic performance, particularly a solid undergraduate GPA, can bolster your application.

Complete a Doctorate in Educational Psychology

Pursuing a doctorate in educational psychology  is an ambitious step that could significantly enhance your career prospects. Achieving this advanced degree typically involves an additional 3-5 years of study after obtaining a master’s degree, during which you will conduct research, theory, and practical application.

Here’s why you should consider a doctorate:

  • Career Advancement : A doctorate can open doors to senior roles, like leadership positions in educational settings or opportunities to teach at a university level.
  • Research Opportunities : This degree allows you to conduct in-depth research, contributing new insights and methodologies to the field.
  • Licensure Benefits : A doctoral degree is necessary in many states to diagnose learning disabilities and offer certain care levels.

Here are some pathways to a doctorate:

  • Research Doctorates (Ph.D.) : Focuses on generating new research in the field.
  • Professional Doctorates (Ed.D, Psy.D.) : These degrees emphasize applying research to practice.

Complete the Required Years of Internship Experience

Internships are an important step in gaining practical experience. During or after your master’s program and possibly throughout your doctorate studies, internship experience is mandatory for licensure as an educational psychologist. They can span one or two years, with about 1,200 hours of experience being acquired.

The goal of an internship is to acquire hands-on experience while applying theoretical knowledge in real-world settings. You could intern in schools, specialty clinics, and research institutes. Some of the key activities you will be engaging in include:

  • Observing and assisting licensed educational psychologists
  • Engaging with teachers, parents, and students
  • Implementing learning assessments

Your internships will equip you with vital skills that cannot be learned through textbooks alone. It allows you to absorb the subtleties of professional practice, network with seasoned psychologists, and refine your approach to helping learners maximize their potential. Remember, these experiences are more than a requirement; they’re the building blocks of your future career.

Write the Exam for Professional Practice in Psychology

Before practicing as an educational psychologist, you must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) . The EPPP is a standard licensing exam used across the United States and some parts of Canada. It is designed to assess your knowledge and competencies in various areas of psychology.

  • EPPP Structure : The exam includes a broad range of topics, such as biological bases of behavior, cognitive-affective bases of behavior, social and cultural bases of behavior, growth and lifespan development, assessment and diagnosis, treatment, intervention, and supervision, as well as research, statistics, and ethical/legal issues.
  • Preparation : It’s vital to prepare for the EPPP thoroughly. You can use study materials such as textbooks, online courses, and practice exams. Familiarize yourself with the exam format and question style.
  • Registration : When you are ready, register for the exam through the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) website. You will have to pay a fee to sit the exam.
  • Scoring : Your exam score will reflect your proficiency in the eight areas tested. You’ll need a passing score determined by your state or provincial licensing board.
  • Retakes : If necessary, you can retake the exam, although there may be limitations on the number of attempts and required wait times between tests.

Scrabble pieces spelling out the word TEACH

Once you’ve passed the EPPP, you’ll have made a significant step towards obtaining your licensure as an educational psychologist. Remember to check with your state’s licensing board for specific details on additional requirements or next steps.

Obtain a License in Your State

Becoming an educational psychologist requires state licensure, demonstrating that you have met the professional standards to practice in your state. You must meet certain requirements to obtain your license, such as passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and completing the required internship hours.

You can then submit your application for licensure to the state board. Post-initial licensure, you must continue to study to update your knowledge and maintain your license. Requirements for continuing professional development can differ by state; however, they generally include a specific number of hours or credits within a set renewal period.

Some states may also require additional examinations or renewal processes. It’s important to stay informed of the evolving standards to ensure your credentials remain in good standing. For example, the Nation’s Certified School Psychologist (NCSP)  credential can be an additional certification that reflects adherence to rigorous national standards.

Start Applying to Jobs

Once you have completed your educational journey, including an undergraduate degree in psychology and a graduate degree, such as a master’s degree in educational psychology , it’s time to start applying for jobs . You’re already a strong candidate with your bachelor’s degree in psychology and advanced research skills cultivated while creating your thesis.

Organize your resume to highlight your academic achievements, particularly your research experience and any practical applications of your studies. Emphasize the skills you’ve gained during your master’s or doctoral degree, such as critical thinking and data analysis. It’s also a good opportunity to underscore any internships or fieldwork placements you’ve completed.

As a candidate with a Ph.D. in educational psychology, your job search may also focus on higher education roles. Consider positions where you can contribute to psychology departments, such as faculty positions or research teams, where you can continue contributing to the field’s body of knowledge.

Special Considerations in the Field

Entering the field of educational psychology involves recognizing unique challenges and areas of specialization, such as working within special education environments and understanding learning disabilities. These areas are vital for tailoring educational strategies to meet the diverse needs of students.

Working with Special Education

You’ll frequently collaborate with teachers and parents in special education to develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). These are important in shaping an educational path tailored to each student’s unique abilities.

You’ll need to be adept at assessment techniques to determine the precise needs of students and measure their progress accurately. Special education requires patience, compassion, and specialized strategies that adapt to various learning and behavioral challenges.

Understanding Learning Disabilities

A thorough understanding of learning disabilities is fundamental to your role. You’ll encounter a range of disabilities, from dyslexia to autism spectrum disorders. Recognizing the characteristics of these disabilities allows you to provide appropriate interventions and accommodations.

It’s also important to stay updated on the latest research and techniques within this dynamic field to ensure your assessment methods and interventions are based on current best practices.

Developing Effective Communication and Skills

As an aspiring educational psychologist, honing your communication skills is vital. You’ll interact with students, families, and educators, requiring warmth and professionalism. Let’s explore building rapport and assessing effectively through communication and testing.

Woman holding a group therapy session with college students

Building Rapport with Students and Families

You should focus on empathetic listening and clear expression to foster a trusting relationship with students and families. Creating a comfortable environment allows students to share their thoughts without hesitation. Here are some points to consider:

  • Display a genuine interest in their concerns.
  • Use open body language.
  • Validate their feelings with phrases such as “That sounds challenging.”

Remember, building rapport is a stepping stone to effective interpersonal communication.

Assessment Techniques & Psychometric Testing

Your role involves the precise art of psychometric testing to evaluate student abilities and challenges. Attention to detail is necessary when administering and interpreting these tests. Here’s how you can excel in this area:

  • Understand various testing methodologies to choose the most appropriate one for each situation.
  • Develop your public speaking and written communication to explain testing procedures and results to students and parents clearly.

By mastering these skills, you will provide invaluable insights through your assessments.

Related Questions

Can educational psychologists diagnose learning disorders.

Educational psychologists have the skills and knowledge to assess and diagnose learning disorders. Your role as an educational psychologist involves administering standardized tests and assessments designed to identify specific learning disabilities. These may include dyslexia, dyscalculia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

What Can I Do With an Educational Psychology Degree?

An educational psychology degree unseals opportunities to work in various educational settings. Your special skill set enables you to understand and improve the learning experiences of individuals across a wide age range. You could work as a school psychologist, educational researcher, learning designer, or academic advisor/counselor.

Are Educational Psychologists the Same as School Psychologists?

The roles, training, and areas of expertise of educational psychologists and school psychologists differ significantly. Educational psychologists typically concentrate on broader educational processes, analyzing how students learn and retain information.

School psychologists work directly in schools, focusing on specific student populations. They address emotional, social, and academic concerns, providing counseling and assessments to help students succeed.

Becoming an educational psychologist is a rewarding journey that combines a passion for education with a deep understanding of psychological principles. Remember, your inherent empathy, dependability, and desire for ongoing self-improvement are just as important as your formal education. These traits will support your purpose to foster resilience and promote positive mental health in educational settings.

Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D.

How to Get Started on Your First Psychology Experiment

Acquiring even a little expertise in advance makes science research easier..

Updated May 16, 2024 | Reviewed by Ray Parker

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  • Students often struggle at the beginning of research projects—knowing how to begin.
  • Research projects can sometimes be inspired by everyday life or personal concerns.
  • Becoming something of an "expert" on a topic in advance makes designing a study go more smoothly.

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One of the most rewarding and frustrating parts of my long career as a psychology professor at a small liberal arts college has been guiding students through the senior capstone research experience required near the end of their college years. Each psychology major must conduct an independent experiment in which they collect data to test a hypothesis, analyze the data, write a research paper, and present their results at a college poster session or at a professional conference.

The rewarding part of the process is clear: The students' pride at seeing their poster on display and maybe even getting their name on an article in a professional journal allows us professors to get a glimpse of students being happy and excited—for a change. I also derive great satisfaction from watching a student discover that he or she has an aptitude for research and perhaps start shifting their career plans accordingly.

The frustrating part comes at the beginning of the research process when students are attempting to find a topic to work on. There is a lot of floundering around as students get stuck by doing something that seems to make sense: They begin by trying to “think up a study.”

The problem is that even if the student's research interest is driven by some very personal topic that is deeply relevant to their own life, they simply do not yet know enough to know where to begin. They do not know what has already been done by others, nor do they know how researchers typically attack that topic.

Students also tend to think in terms of mission statements (I want to cure eating disorders) rather than in terms of research questions (Why are people of some ages or genders more susceptible to eating disorders than others?).

Needless to say, attempting to solve a serious, long-standing societal problem in a few weeks while conducting one’s first psychology experiment can be a showstopper.

Even a Little Bit of Expertise Can Go a Long Way

My usual approach to helping students get past this floundering stage is to tell them to try to avoid thinking up a study altogether. Instead, I tell them to conceive of their mission as becoming an “expert” on some topic that they find interesting. They begin by reading journal articles, writing summaries of these articles, and talking to me about them. As the student learns more about the topic, our conversations become more sophisticated and interesting. Researchable questions begin to emerge, and soon, the student is ready to start writing a literature review that will sharpen the focus of their research question.

In short, even a little bit of expertise on a subject makes it infinitely easier to craft an experiment on that topic because the research done by others provides a framework into which the student can fit his or her own work.

This was a lesson I learned early in my career when I was working on my own undergraduate capstone experience. Faced with the necessity of coming up with a research topic and lacking any urgent personal issues that I was trying to resolve, I fell back on what little psychological expertise I had already accumulated.

In a previous psychology course, I had written a literature review on why some information fails to move from short-term memory into long-term memory. The journal articles that I had read for this paper relied primarily on laboratory studies with mice, and the debate that was going on between researchers who had produced different results in their labs revolved around subtle differences in the way that mice were released into the experimental apparatus in the studies.

Because I already had done some homework on this, I had a ready-made research question available: What if the experimental task was set up so that the researcher had no influence on how the mouse entered the apparatus at all? I was able to design a simple animal memory experiment that fit very nicely into the psychological literature that was already out there, and this prevented a lot of angst.

Please note that my undergraduate research project was guided by the “expertise” that I had already acquired rather than by a burning desire to solve some sort of personal or social problem. I guarantee that I had not been walking around as an undergraduate student worrying about why mice forget things, but I was nonetheless able to complete a fun and interesting study.

what is educational psychology essay

My first experiment may not have changed the world, but it successfully launched my research career, and I fondly remember it as I work with my students 50 years later.

Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D.

Frank McAndrew, Ph.D., is the Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College.

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    Complete a Doctorate in Educational Psychology. Pursuing a doctorate in educational psychology is an ambitious step that could significantly enhance your career prospects. Achieving this advanced degree typically involves an additional 3-5 years of study after obtaining a master's degree, during which you will conduct research, theory, and ...

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