Educational psychology: definition, concepts and theories

Psychology is responsible for the scientific study of human behavior and mental processes. There are several different sub-disciplines of psychology that focus on a particular aspect of the human psyche, in order to better understand our behavior and to provide tools to improve the well-being of each individual.

One of these sub-disciplines is educational psychology (Also called educational psychology), which is responsible for deepening learning and the most appropriate educational methods for students to develop their cognitive skills.

Educational psychology: definition and object of study

Educational psychology is a sub-discipline of psychology which is responsible for studying the embodiments of human learning, particularly in the school context. Educational psychology analyzes the ways in which we learn and teach and tries to increase the effectiveness of different educational interventions in order to optimize the process. He also seeks to apply the principles and laws of social psychology to educational institutions and organizations.

In other words, the object of study of educational psychology is student learning and the different aspects that modulate their cognitive development.

Educational psychology to improve learning

In the school context, educational psychology researches the best methods and programs to improve the educational model and school management.

Aiming at a better understanding of the elements and characteristics that influence learning during childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age, educational psychologists are responsible for develop and implement different theories on human development that help to understand the different processes and contexts in which learning takes place.

Theories on learning

During the last century, several authors propose models and theories to explain how humans relate to knowledge. These theories have served to influence the approaches and methods used by educational psychology.

1. Jean Piaget’s learning theory

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) exerted a decisive influence on the psychology of education. His theory explored the stages that children go through in relation to their cognitive abilities, until they manage to develop abstract logical thinking around the age of eleven. He is one of the leading figures in the field of developmental psychology.

Learn more about Piaget’s learning theory by reading this article:

  • “Jean Piaget’s Theory of Learning”

2. Sociocultural theory of Lev Vygostky

To what extent do culture and society influence children’s cognitive development? This is the question asked by the Russian psychologist Lev Vygostky (1896 – 1934). Vygostky studied the influence of different social spheres in which interactions occur that lead the child to assimilate and internalize certain patterns of behavior.

Its concepts, such as “proximal development zone“And the”scaffolding learning“They are still in effect.

Everything you need to know about Vygotsky’s theory, in this summary:

  • “Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory”

3. Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura (Born 1925) also developed key concepts for sociocognitivism and educational psychology. Bandura analyzed the intimate relationship between contextual and social variables with learning processes. In addition, he is the author of concepts of great interest such as the self concepts.

You can read more about his learning theory, here:

  • “Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory”

Other theories and contributions

There are other theoretical constructs which have also brought great knowledge in the field of educational psychology. For example, the moral development theory by Lawrence Kohlberg and the child development model proposed by Rudolf Steiner.

In addition to the psychologists who have brought their grain of sand to the psychology of education, it is also worth mentioning other authors and figures of decisive weight and who have sown this sub-discipline of knowledge and reflections.

Maria Montessori: a paradigm shift

For example, the case of the Italian pedagogue and psychiatrist is remarkable Maria montessori, Which succeeded in establishing a whole new basis in the pedagogy of the early twentieth century. Montessori removed the foundations of classical pedagogy by proposing a pedagogical method in which he presented four fundamental pillars for the education of students.

These four pillars on which any learning process is based are: the adult, the student’s mind, the learning environment and “sensitive periods” in which the child is more receptive to learning new knowledge or skills.

The role of educational psychologists

Educational (or educational) psychologists are responsible for analyzing the different characteristics of each student. This awareness of the individual differences of pupils it is used to try to improve the development and learning of each of them, Reflection on intelligence, motivation, creativity and communication skills, among other aspects

One of the keys: motivation

A motivated student is a much more receptive student to acquire new knowledge and skills. It is for this reason that motivation is one of the preferred areas of study in educational psychology. Motivation depends on the degree of interest aroused by classroom teaching and the level of involvement of the pupils in the tasks to be accomplished. In addition, through motivation, the student acquires knowledge through meaningful learning.

Motivation does not only refer to the predisposition to learn in the classroom, but it has a crucial influence on the aspirations and goals of the people in their life.

Learning disorders and difficulties

Educational psychologists also have to deal with the issues that some students face when learning at the same pace as their peers. School-aged children may have specific difficulties such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or dyslexia, which they negatively affect cognitive aspects related to the learning process. It will be necessary for the educational psychologist, in agreement with the teachers, to plan a course adapted to these cases, trying to minimize the academic impact of these disorders or delays.

However, educational psychologists also play a key role in detect and treat other problems of a non-specific nature. For example, clinical cases such as students suffering from depressive disorders, anxiety disorders or with any other type of involvement requiring individualized treatment and, in some cases, adaptation of the program. Other psychosocial issues such as students affected by bullying may also require the intervention of the educational psychologist.

Bibliographical references:

  • Castorina, JA and Lenzi, AM (comps.) (2000). The formation of social knowledge in children. Psychological research and educational perspectives. Barcelona: Gedisa.
  • Delval, J. (1994). Human Development. Madrid: 21st century publishers from Spain.
  • Dunn, J. (1993). The beginnings of social understanding. Buenos Aires: New Vision Editions.
  • Kimmel, DC and Weiner, IB (1998). Adolescence: a developmental transition. Barcelona: Ariel.
  • Pérez Pereira, M. (1995). New perspectives in developmental psychology. A critical historical approach. Madrid: Editorial alliance.
  • Pinker, S. (2001). The instinct of language. Madrid: Editorial alliance.

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