Psychology in Education

Applications of Psychological Theories to the Life of a Student

How we learn and incorporate information is directly influenced by psychology and is a key subject of interest for educational psychologists.

Learning Objectives

Describe the major theories of learning in the field of education

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Educational psychology is the study of how humans learn in educational settings, the effectiveness of educational interventions, the psychology of teaching, and the social psychology of schools as organizations.
  • Knowing your learning style and the various theories can help you better understand information, which will help you develop positive study habits.
  • Several learning theories—such as behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism —exist to explain the ways in which a person can learn and understand various concepts.
  • People learn in a variety of ways, and tend to have a particular strength in one of three areas: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

Key Terms

  • constructivism: A psychological epistemology that argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning from their experiences.
  • kinesthesia: Also known as proprioception or static position sense; the perception of the position, posture, and movement of the body.
  • cognitivism: The view that mental function can be understood as the internal manipulation of symbols according to a set of rules.
  • behaviorism: An approach to psychology that focuses strictly on observable behavior; this theory assumes that behavior is determined by a person’s environment.

Psychology plays an important role in what we do on a day-to-day basis, and this is especially true for students. How we learn and incorporate information is directly influenced by psychology, whether we know it or not. Educational psychology is the study of how humans learn in educational settings, the effectiveness of educational interventions, the psychology of teaching, and the social psychology of schools as organizations. It is concerned with how students learn and develop, often focusing on subgroups such as gifted children and those subject to specific disabilities. Understanding the various theories of learning as well as your personal learning style can help you better understand information and develop positive study habits.

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Psychology in the life of a student: How we learn and incorporate information is directly influenced by psychology.

Education and Theories of Learning

Within the realm of psychology, there are several theories that help explain the ways in which people learn. By understanding these concepts, students are better able to understand and capitalize on how they acquire knowledge in school. Behaviorism is based on both classical conditioning (in which a stimulus is conditioned to create a response) and operant conditioning (in which behavior is reinforced through a particular reward or punishment). For example, if you study for your psychology test and receive a grade of A, you are rewarded; in theory, this makes it more likely that you will study in the future for your next test.

Cognitivism is the idea that people develop knowledge and meaning through the sequential development of several cognitive processes, including recognition, reflection, application, and evaluation. For example, you read your psychology textbook (recognition), you ponder what the ideas mean (reflection), you use the ideas in your everyday life (application) and then you are tested on your knowledge (evaluation). All of these processes work together to help you develop prior knowledge and integrate new concepts.

Constructivism is the concept of constructing new ideas based on previous knowledge. For example, our prior experiences with a situation help us to understand new experiences and information. Piaget is most famous for his work in constructivism, and many Montessori schools are based on the constructivist school of thought.

Types of Learners

People also learn in a variety of ways. Styles of learning are generally grouped into three primary categories: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Although most people are a combination of these three types, we tend to have a particular strength in one area. Knowing your strongest learning type can help you learn in the most effective way; depending on your learning style, you’ll want to tweak your study skills to get the most of your education.

  • Visual learners usually use objects such as flashcards or take and reread lecture notes. Visual learners will highlight important passages in books or draw pictures/diagrams of ideas to help better understand the concepts.
  • Auditory learners understand concepts best by listening; many will record a lecture and play it back to further understand the lesson. Many auditory learners will read aloud and tend to do well on oral, rather than written, exams.
  • Kinesthetic learners (related to kinesthesia) do best when they act out or repeat something several times. Role-plays, experiments, and hands-on activities are great ways for kinesthetic learners to understand and remember concepts.

Learning Disabilities and Special Education

Special-education programs are designed to help children with disabilities obtain an education equivalent to their non-disabled peers.

Learning Objectives

Discuss ways special education can meet the needs of students with different types of learning disabilities

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Special education is the practice of educating students with disabilities or special needs in an effective way that addresses their individual differences and needs.
  • Some forms of support include specialized classrooms; adapted equipment and materials; accessible settings; teacher’s aides; and speech, occupational, or physical therapists.
  • Common types of learning disabilities include intellectual disabilities, autism, ADHD, dyslexia, deaf-blindness, developmental delay, orthopedic impairment, speech or language impairment, and traumatic brain injury.
  • Two laws, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504, provide guidance to educators in order to provide appropriate and equal education to students with disabilities.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides federal funding to states to be put towards the educational needs of disabled children. Its two main components include Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and the Individual Education Program (IEP).
  • Section 504 is a civil-rights law that protects students with disabilities from discrimination, even if they are not provided for by the IDEA. Section 504 states that schools must ensure that a student with a disability is educated among peers without disabilities.

Key Terms

  • intelligence quotient: A score derived from one of several different standardized tests attempting to measure intelligence.
  • phonological: Of or relating to the study of the way sounds function in languages, including syllable structure, stress, accent, intonation, and which sounds are distinctive units within a language.
  • impairment: A deterioration or weakening; a disability or handicap; an inefficient part or factor.

There are a variety of learning disabilities that require special assistance in order to help children learn effectively. Special education is the practice of educating students with disabilities or special needs in an effective way that addresses their individual differences and needs. Ideally, this process involves the individually planned and systematically monitored arrangement of teaching procedures, adapted equipment and materials, and accessible settings. Some forms of support include specialized classrooms; teacher’s aides; and speech, occupational, or physical therapists.

Special-education interventions are designed to help learners with special needs achieve a higher level of personal self-sufficiency and success in school and their community than may be available if they were only given access to a typical classroom education. Certain laws and policies are designed to help children with learning disabilities obtain an education equivalent to their non-disabled peers.

Types of Learning Disabilities

Intellectual Disabilities

An intellectual disability, or general learning disability, is a generalized disorder appearing before adulthood, characterized by significantly impaired cognitive functioning and deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors (such as self-help, communication, or interpersonal skills). Intellectual disabilities were previously referred to as mental retardation (MR)—though this older term is being used less frequently—which was historically defined as an intelligence quotient (IQ) score under 70. There are different levels of intellectual disability, from mild to moderate to severe.

ADHD

Attention -deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is considered a type of learning disability. This disability is characterized by difficulty with focusing, paying attention, and controlling impulses. Children with ADHD may have trouble sitting in their seat and focusing on the material presented, or their distractions may keep them from fully learning and understanding the lessons. To be diagnosed according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), symptoms must be observed in multiple settings for six months or more and to a degree that is much greater than others of the same age. They must also cause problems in the person’s social, academic, or work life.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by limitations in language and social skills. While previously divided into different disorders, the DSM-5 now uses the term ASD to include autism, Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Language difficulties related to ASD will sometimes make it hard for the child to interact with teachers and peers or themselves in the classroom. Deficits in social skills can interfere with the development of appropriate peer relationships, and repetitive behaviors can be obsessive and interfere with a child’s daily activities. Although many children with ASD display normal intelligence, they may require special support due to other symptoms of the disorder.

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A child with autism stacking cans: Although many children with ASD display normal intelligence, they often require special support due to other symptoms of the disorder.

Dyslexia

Dyslexia is characterized by difficulty with learning to read or write fluently and with accurate comprehension, despite normal intelligence. This includes difficulty with phonological awareness, phonological decoding, processing speed, auditory short-term memory, and/or language skills or verbal comprehension. Dyslexia is the most recognized of reading disorders; however not all reading disorders are linked to dyslexia.

Laws for Children with Disabilities

Two laws exist to help ensure that children with learning disabilities receive the same level of education as children without disabilities: IDEA and Section 504.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides federal funding to states to be put toward the educational needs of children with disabilities. IDEA, which covers 13 categories of disability, has two main components: Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and an Individual Education Program (IEP). In addition to the disabilities listed above, IDEA covers deaf-blindness, deafness, developmental delays, hearing impairments, emotional disturbance, orthopedic or other health impairment, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment (including blindness).

The Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) component of IDEA makes it mandatory for schools to provide free and appropriate education to all students, regardless of intellectual level and disability. FAPE is defined as an educational program that is individualized for a specific child, designed to meet that child’s unique needs, and from which the child receives educational benefit. An Individual Education Program (IEP) is developed for each child who receives special education; each plan consists of individualized goals for the child to work toward, and these plans are re-evaluated annually.

IDEA also advocates for the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), which means that—to the greatest extent possible—a student who has a disability should have the opportunity to be educated with non-disabled peers, have access to the general-education curriculum, and be provided with supplementary aids and services necessary to achieve educational goals if placed in a setting with non-disabled peers.

Section 504

Section 504 is a civil-rights law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination. All students with disabilities are protected by Section 504, even if they are not provided for by IDEA. Section 504 states that schools must ensure that a student with a disability is educated among peers without disabilities. A re-evaluation is required prior to any significant changes in a child’s placement, and a grievance procedure is in place for parents who may not agree with their child’s educational placement.