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

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

Educational psychology: definition and object of study

Educational psychology is a sub-discipline of psychology that studies the ways in which human learning takes place, especially in the context of educational centres . Educational psychology analyses the ways in which we learn and teach and tries to increase the effectiveness of the different educational interventions in order to optimize the process. It also tries 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 investigates the best methods and curricula that allow for the improvement of the educational model and the management of the centres .

Since their objective is to better understand the elements and characteristics that influence learning during childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age, educational psychologists are responsible for elaborating and implementing different theories on human development that help to understand the different processes and contexts in which learning takes place.

Learning theories

Throughout the last century, several authors proposed models and theories to explain the way in which humans relate to knowledge . These theories have served to influence the approaches and methods used by educational psychology.

Jean Piaget’s Theory of Learning

The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) had a decisive influence on educational psychology. His theory delved into the stages that children go through in relation to their cognitive ability, until they manage to develop abstract logical thinking around the age of eleven. He is one of the most important references in the field of developmental psychology.

More about Piaget’s Theory of Learning by reading this article:

  • “Jean Piaget’s Theory of Learning”

The Sociocultural Theory of Lev Vygostky

To what extent do culture and society influence the cognitive development of children? This is the question posed by the Russian psychologist Lev Vygostky (1896 – 1934). Vygostky investigated the influence of the different social environments in which interactions take place that lead the child to assimilate and interiorize some patterns of behavior.

Its concepts, such as ” proximal development zone ” and ” learning by scaffolding ” are still valid.

Everything there is to know about Vygotsky’s theory, in this summary:

  • “The Sociocultural Theory of Lev Vygotsky”

Albert Bandura’s Theory of Social Learning

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

You can read more about his learning theory, here:

  • “Albert Bandura’s Theory of Social Learning”

Other theories and contributions

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

In addition to psychologists who contributed their grain of sand to educational psychology, it is also necessary to cite other authors and figures with a decisive weight and who sowed knowledge and reflections in this sub-discipline.

Maria Montessori: a change of paradigm

For example, the case of the Italian pedagogue and psychiatrist María Montessori is noteworthy, as she managed to lay down totally new foundations in the pedagogy of the early 20th century. Montessori removed the foundations of classical pedagogy by proposing a pedagogical method in which she 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 the ” sensitive periods ” in which the child is most receptive to learning new knowledge or skills.

The role of educational psychologists

Educational (or educational) psychologists are in charge of analyzing the various characteristics of each student. This awareness of the individual differences of the students is used to try to promote the development and learning of each one of them , reflected in intelligence, motivation, creativity and communication skills, among other aspects

One of the keys: motivation

A motivated learner is a learner who is much more receptive to acquiring new knowledge and skills . It is for this reason that motivation is one of the favourite fields of study in educational psychology. On motivation depends the degree of interest that the teachings in the classroom arouse, the level of involvement of the student with the tasks he or she must do. Furthermore, thanks to motivation, the student will acquire knowledge through significant learning.

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

Disorders and difficulties associated with learning

Educational psychologists also have to deal with the problems some students have in learning at the same pace as their peers. School-aged children may present specific difficulties such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Dyslexia, which negatively affect the cognitive aspects linked to the learning process . It will be necessary for the educational psychologist, in agreement with the teachers, to plan a curriculum adapted to these cases, trying to minimise the academic impact of these disorders or delays.

However, educational psychologists also have a fundamental role in detecting and treating other problems of a non-specific nature . For example, clinical cases such as students with depressive, anxious, or any other type of affectation that requires individualized treatment and, in some cases, curricular adaptation. Other psychosocial problems such as students affected by bullying may also require the intervention of the educational psychologist.

Bibliographic references:

  • Castorina, J.A. and Lenzi, A.M. (comps.) (2000). The formation of social knowledge in children. Psychological research and educational perspectives. Barcelona: Gedisa.
  • Delval, J. (1994). El desarrollo humano. Madrid: Siglo Veintiuno de España Editores.
  • Dunn, J. (1993). The beginnings of social understanding. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Nueva Visión.
  • Kimmel, D.C. and Weiner, I.B. (1998). Adolescence: a developmental transition. Barcelona: Ariel.
  • Pérez Pereira, M. (1995). New perspectives in developmental psychology. A critical historical approach. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.
  • Pinker, S. (2001). The instinct of language. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.