There is no single way for any one person to absorb and remember information. Educational psychology is the study of how differently people learn in academic settings and may include topics such as gifted learners, learners with disabilities, individual learning preferences, and the process of instruction itself. Though much of this branch of study focuses on early childhood and adolescence, the increase of adults continuing their education has become an area of interest as well. Within the field of educational psychology, there are four major perspectives to be considered: behavioral, developmental, cognitive and constructivist.
The behavioral perspective frames human behavior as being learned by conditioning. One principle which forms the backbone of this theory is operant conditioning. Operant conditioning, or instrumental conditioning, is a learning process by which positive or negative reinforcement is used to adjust or attain a particular behavior. For example, a parent may reward a child who struggles in school with a lollipop for receiving a good grade on a test.
The developmental perspective considers the process of how a child gains new skills and understanding in various stages of their lifespan. A popular example of this is Jean Piaget’s psychology theory of The Four Stages of Cognitive Development in which he summarizes the characteristics and abilities of a child by their age range. A conclusion of this theory is that children integrate new information and thought processes as they age, and not that age produces more intelligence only. It is useful for educators to understand what their students are capable of, so that they can adapt their teaching methods and curriculum accordingly.
The cognitive perspective incorporates ideas such as memory, perception, and problem-solving abilities of a learner. The main interest of this perspective lies in understanding what encourages a student to learn and how they retain information. The mind, in this theory, is viewed to be almost computerlike in the way it perceives and processes new data. It differs from the previous two approaches in that it considers the mental state of the child. Knowing a child’s motivations, beliefs, and desires are central to this perspective. Additionally, the cognitive perspective is more receptive to scientific based solutions to issues.
A more recent theory is the constructivist approach. While the previous perspectives focus on the child’s behavior, capabilities and motives, this approach looks into outside influences such as social and cultural conditions. It is based on the idea that people build on their knowledge through experience. An educator may choose to integrate this approach into their classroom by adding collaborative learning opportunities such as group projects.
Every individual has a profile of traits, skills and challenges that result from development and environment. This profile manifests itself in varying expressions of creativity, cognitive styles, motivation, communication skills, and relational ability from person to person. While the use of intelligence testing has been a subject of some debate, it is largely used in developed countries to identify children who would benefit from specialized instruction. Children who are classified as gifted are often provided with accelerated programs. Conversely, children who struggle may be given specific educational programs to target their challenges. The most common disabilities that may be encountered in the school setting are ADHD, dyslexia, speech disorders, hearing impairment, and blindness.
An educational psychology course has many benefits. This course prepares future educators to create environments that enable students of all abilities to succeed academically. This can be accomplished by truly understanding the cognitive, developmental and behavioral differences of each student. Teaching methods can then be effectively implemented to cater to the varying needs of all students.