Melissa has a Masters in Education and a PhD in Educational Psychology. She has worked as an instructional designer at UVA SOM.
Behaviorism is the theoretical perspective in which learning and behavior are described and explained in terms of stimulus-response relationships. The key assumptions of behaviorism are:
- The environment influences behavior. Behaviorists believe that people's behaviors are a result of their interaction with the environment. Specifically, people become conditioned, or molded, to respond in certain ways based on responses like feedback, praise and rewards.
- Learning is described through stimuli and responses. Behaviorists focus on observable events rather than events that occur inside a person's head, such as thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
- Learning must involve a behavioral change. Theorists believe that learning has not occurred unless there is an observable change in behavior.
- Learning must result when stimulus and response occur close together in time. Learners must associate their response with a stimulus. In order for that to occur, the two must happen in conjunction with each other, or, in other words, be contiguous.
- Animals and humans learn in similar ways. Behaviorists, unlike many other theorists, performed their experiments using animals because they believed the study of animals could explain human learning behavior.
The major behaviorists you should be familiar with include John Watson, known as the father of behaviorism; Ivan Pavlov, best known for classical conditioning; B.F. Skinner, known for operant conditioning; and Edward Thorndike, known for the law of effect.
The next perspective of educational psychology is the cognitive perspective. Cognitive psychology is the theoretical perspective that focuses on learning based on how people perceive, remember, think, speak and problem-solve. The cognitive perspective differs from the behaviorist perspective in two distinct ways. First, cognitive psychology acknowledges the existence of internal mental states disregarded by behaviorists. Examples of these states are belief, desire, ideas and motivation (non-observable states). Second, cognitive psychologists claim memory structures determine how information is perceived, processed, stored, retrieved and forgotten. Cognitive psychology encompasses perception, categorization, memory, knowledge representation, language and thinking processes.
The major cognitive psychologists you should be familiar with include Jean Piaget, who developed Piaget's theory of cognitive development and stages of cognitive development; Lev Vygotsky, best known for his sociocultural development theory; Noam Chomsky, referred to as the father of modern linguistics; and Jerome Bruner, who coined the term 'scaffolding.'
Our next perspective is the developmental perspective. Developmental psychology is the perspective that studies change that occurs in learners over the course of a long period of time. The developmental perspective encompasses theories that are continuous and discontinuous in nature. Discontinuous theories are stage-like. The processes of learning and development involve distinct stages, which are characterized by qualitative differences in behavior. Theorists who posit discontinuous theories propose a specific beginning and end period for each stage. Continuous theories, in contrast, explain that learning and development occur in incremental processes. Learning involves gradual and ongoing changes throughout the lifespan.
The major developmental theorists you should be familiar with include some of the theorists we have discussed, such as Piaget, but also include Erik Erikson, who proposed the stages of psychosocial development; Lawrence Kohlberg, best known for his stages of moral development; and James Marcia, known for the theory of identity achievement.
Our fourth perspective is the social cognitive perspective. Social cognitive psychology is the perspective in which learning by observing others is the focus of study. Key assumptions of social cognitive perspective are:
- Learning occurs through observation. Social cognitivists believe learning can occur by simply observing the behaviors of others.
- Learning is an internal process, which may or may not lead to a behavioral change. Specifically, theorists conclude that learning may occur without the behavior being displayed immediately or even ever.
- Behavior is directed toward a particular goal. Social cognitivists believe learners set goals and direct their behaviors toward meeting those goals.
- Behavior eventually becomes self-regulated.
- Observing punishment and rewards can indirectly impact the behavior of the observer.
The major social cognitive psychologist you should be familiar with is Albert Bandura, who is known for his social learning theory.
Our final perspective is the constructivist perspective. Constructivism proposes the idea that the learner constructs, rather than absorbs, knowledge from his or her experiences. According to the constructivism perspective:
- The learner is self-directed, creative and innovative.
- The learner is encouraged to learn truths about the environment and the world by arriving at conclusions based on his or her background, culture or worldview.
- The responsibility of learning falls primarily on the learner, while the teacher's role is that of a facilitator.
- Collaborative learning is also a key component of this perspective.
The major constructivist psychologists you should be familiar with are John Dewey; Maria Montessori, best known for her philosophy of education and schools; David Kolb, known for experiential learning; and Ernst von Glasersfeld, known for his model of radical constructivism.
In conclusion, the field of educational psychology, like a tree, consists of many branches we call perspectives. Each perspective has a different definition and is based on different guiding principles and assumptions, but all perspectives look at how people learn, retain and use knowledge.
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