What is Educational Psychology? A Guide to the Science of Learning

What is Educational Psychology? A Guide to the Science of Learning

Educational psychology is the study of how people learn and retain knowledge. It applies the science of psychology to education, with the goal of understanding the social, emotional, and cognitive processes involved in learning.

The Role of Educational Psychologists

Educational psychologists study how students of all ages comprehend information, acquire new skills, and interact in the classroom environment. Their research provides insights for teachers into how students learn best.

Some key responsibilities of educational psychologists include:

  • Studying psychological factors that impact learning, such as cognition, motivation, intelligence, and social dynamics
  • Conducting research on development, learning processes, instruction methods, giftedness, and learning disabilities
  • Consulting with schools on how to tailor teaching methods to individual students
  • Assessing students for learning and behavioral disorders and recommending interventions

Major Theories in Educational Psychology

There are several major theories that influence our understanding of the learning process:

1. Behaviorism

Based on the idea that behaviors are learned through conditioning. Rewards and punishments are used to reinforce desired behaviors.

2. Cognitivism

Focuses on mental processes involved in learning, such as thinking, problem-solving, memory, and perception.

3. Constructivism

Views learning as an active process where students construct new ideas and concepts based on prior knowledge and experiences.

4. Social Cognitive Theory

Emphasizes that learning occurs in a social environment with interactions between the learner, peers, and teachers.

Promoting Positive Learning Environments

Educational psychology research helps identify best practices for structuring positive learning environments where students can thrive. Strategies include:

  • Encouraging student autonomy and self-direction
  • Making lessons relevant to students’ lives
  • Promoting mastery learning and growth mindset beliefs
  • Using assessments to guide teaching rather than overly focus on testing
  • Cultivating positive student-teacher relationships

Applications in the Classroom

Teachers and schools apply findings from educational psychology research to improve instruction and create supportive learning environments. Specific applications include:

  • Individualized instruction for students with special needs
  • Teaching students self-regulation strategies
  • Cooperative learning methods
  • Culturally responsive teaching
  • Data-based decision making to guide interventions


What are the main goals of educational psychology?

The main goals are to describe, explain, predict and influence learning by applying psychological science to education. This involves studying factors that impact learning and providing evidence-based recommendations for teaching methods and strategies.

What makes educational psychology different from developmental psychology?

While developmental psychology takes a lifespan approach to physical, cognitive and social development, educational psychology focuses specifically on human learning processes and how to optimize these from early childhood through late adolescence.

How do educational psychologists apply theories to improve education?

They use scientific methods to test learning theories in the classroom context. The results provide educators with evidence-based principles for teaching students more effectively. The goal is to translate theory into practical teaching advice.

What are some careers in educational psychology?

Careers include being a school psychologist, academic counselor, special education teacher, research scientist developing interventions to improve learning outcomes, university professor studying learning sciences, or educational consultant helping schools implement evidence-based practices.

What are the major perspectives in educational psychology?

The major perspectives that provide frameworks for studying learning include behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, sociocultural, and the emerging field of neuroeducation. Each provides insights on factors that influence learning and how to structure teaching.