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Educational Psychology

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Educational Psychology

Educational psychology is only a small scientific discipline that cannot be expected to create significant changes in our society. It does, however, attempt to establish principles and generalizations about human learning and psychological development in all its phases. Due to the contributions of great scientists educational psychology has much to offer for solving contemporary educational problems.

William James, the father of educational psychology, in 1890 was the first to attack the problem of memory training experimentally (Wittrock and Farley, 1989, p. 88). James and four of his students each ascertained the time required to memorize material from one author, such as a section of Victor Hugo Satyr. Then, after spending about twenty minutes per day for a month or more learning material from another author, they again memorized passages from the Satyr. Three of the four students showed improvement, while the other student and James himself found no transfer. These experiments were really too crude to be conclusive, but they are of historical significance since they stimulated, further experimental studies by more refined methods.

Alfred Binet, a distinguished French psychologist, conceived the idea that intelligence was not a single narrow quality or power, but a complex organization of abilities (Woolfolk, 1987, p. 121). The effect of this belief was a change in the method of approach to the problem. Conceiving intelligence to be not homogeneous but possessing many aspects, Binet began a search for many types of performances or problems in which intelligent behavior should be displayed. Believing also that intelligence was largely native, although recognizing the fact that previous experience influences the results of most psychological tests, Binet began by searching for bits of information available to children in all walks of life, and for problems, puzzles, questions, mental tasks of various types that were not likely to be encountered under ordinary home or school conditions. The information sought, then, was of the sort that every child has ample opportunity to acquire and the problems of a type that no child was likely to have previously learned to solve.After fifteen years of work, Binet published in 1908 the series of tests known as the Binet-Simon Scale of Intelligence (Woolfolk, 1987, p. 129).

Beginning at the time Binet began his work, there have been a series of ingenious statistical studies of intelligence tests designed to reveal whether intelligence is general, operating everywhere and on everything like a single general power or faculty, or whether intelligence is specialized or even specific.

Thorndike believed that intellectual tasks are carried out by a complex nervous system operating in many different total patterns -- patterns too complex and varied to be fully described as mere mixtures of a certain factors. Thorndike has developed the concept of the so-called "law of effect." According to this principle, responses that are accompanied by satisfying states of affairs (that is, those which the organism strives to attain or maintain) are selected and learned. Originally Thorndike included in the law the correlative conclusion that responses whose aftereffects are annoying (states that the organism attempts to avoid or replace) are eliminated in the course of successive trials (Woolfolk, 1987, p. 170). His recent research, however, while it has confirmed the positive influence of satisfying consequences, has shown that annoyers do not weaken connections between situation and response, and are mainly useful in shifting the learner to some other response which may be correct and satisfying. "In all these experiments," Thorndike reports, "useful learning occurs almost or quite exclusively by strengthening of certain connections by satisfying after-effects."(1935, p. 74)

The "law of effect" has given impetus to many experiments on the influence of reward and punishment on learning. Thorndike himself has conducted or directed a large number of these investigations. Using monetary rewards, or simply saying "right" to the subjects when they performed correctly, he has amply confirmed his generalization that satisfying consequences strengthen the responses which they directly follow. He has discovered other interesting and significant facts concerning the operation of rewards (Dashiell, 1938, p. 192). The influence of a reward is greatest when it follows the response immediately, and its potency decreases as the interval between a reaction and its aftereffect increases. Thorndike has found that punished connections may be more, rather than less, likely to recur!

Another famous psychologist John Dewey has made it clear that we learn through experience, but that not all experience is educative. Activities which, though significant to the person at the time, also lead into more intelligent behavior and open up further means of growth are the ones which the school should encourage (Dewey, 1938, pp. 105-106). No sensible person would encourage boys who are absorbed in making model airplanes to spend all their time that way. A shrewd teacher, however, might use that interest to activate the study of science, art, social studies, and literature. Dewey has also explained that the school has frequently failed to make children's tasks meaningful because it has neglected to make what is to be learned a means of realizing pupils' purposes. Schoolwork, to the pupil, is too often just a series of assigned tasks. Understanding comes, on the contrary, from discovering what information or what skills are necessary for attaining a desired end, or from determining the consequences or the uses or the implications of what is being learned.

Lewis Terman contributed to the development of educational psychology conducting his research in the field of leadership. His works have generally indicated, as one would expect, that leaders are likely to be somewhat superior to the average member of the group in such traits as scholarship, intelligence, strength, motor skill, height, and physical appearance. An individual of towering intellectual ability is unlikely to achieve a corresponding degree of leadership unless he has ingratiating qualities other than sheer intellect. Noteworthy in this connection are the findings in a study by Terman and Oden of the achievements of persons in their twenties and thirties who had first come under observation as gifted persons when they were children. Many of these bright youths had achieved outstanding positions, but some others, while maintaining their high level of intelligence, had failed to realize their intellectual promise. The findings obtained by Terman and Oden indicated that ". . . above the I.Q. level of 140, adult success is largely determined



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