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What Is the Study of Educational Psychology?

The field deepens our understanding of how people learn.

The field of educational psychology takes several approaches to answer the question, “How do people learn?” Practically, the goal is to develop and promote more effective learning methods that are tailored to the needs of individual students, from high achievers to those with more specialized requirements. Often, educational psychologists incorporate human development theories in their work. They may focus their observations on the classroom or look at learning in other settings, such as the workplace. Their areas of focus typically include instructional methods and student outcomes, and might consider how culture, social skills, learning styles, and disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder affect success.

Cognitive, developmental, and behavioral approaches to educational psychology represent three areas of study in this discipline. Let’s take a closer look at each one:

What Is the Study of Educational Psychology?

Cognitive Psychology

Also known as brain science, cognitive psychology studies the inner workings of the human brain. Attention, retention, thinking, perception, and understanding are all pieces of the puzzle. Cognitive psychologists might focus their work around connections between emotion and retention or look closely at how students grasp new mathematics concepts. While the field is younger than other forms of educational psychology, the cognitive approach is in high demand today as curriculum developers and educators seek innovative ways to boost teaching effectiveness, including the incorporation of classroom technology and online learning.

Developmental Psychology

The field of developmental psychology looks at the changes people encounter throughout life, from before birth through advanced age. Developmental psychologists focused on education are especially interested in learning milestones, language development, and how different approaches could help students with developmental delays. Their work might center on research or provide direct support to students and their families who face learning challenges.

Behavioral Psychology

According to theories of behavioral psychology, environmental factors condition individuals to behave in certain ways. As the field emerged during the first half of the 20th century, committed behaviorists believed that any person could be trained to do anything, regardless of other factors such as genetic makeup, personality type, and culture. Today, educational psychologists interested in applied behavior analysis might study the effects of conditioning on learning. They might look at motivational methods used in classrooms—when students receive rewards for good behavior, for instance—and consider the pros and cons of such an approach. Research could also include timing of rewards and punishments and the importance of routine in the learning process.

Are you interested learning more about the field of educational psychology? An accredited institution, Walden University allows you to earn your MS in Psychology online without interrupting your professional career.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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