Educational Psychology

The study of the process of education, e.g., how people, especially children, learn and which teaching methods and materials are most successful.

Educational psychology in the United States has its roots in the pioneering work of the 1890s by two of the country's foremost psychologists, William James (1842–1910) and John Dewey (1859–1952). James— who is known for his 1899 volume, Talks to Teachers on Psychology—pioneered the concept of taking psychology out of the laboratory and applying it to problems in the real world. He advocated the study of educational problems in their natural environment, the classroom, and viewed classroom interactions and observations as a legitimate source of scientific data. Dewey, the country's most famous advocate of active learning, founded an experimental school at the University of Chicago to develop and study new educational methods. Dewey experimented with educational curricula and methods and advocated parental participation in the educational process. His philosophy of education stressed learning by doing, as opposed to authoritarian teaching methods and rote learning, and his ideas have had a strong impact on the theory and practice of education in the United States. Dewey's first influential book on education, The School and Society (1899), was adapted from a series of lectures to parents of the pupils in his school at the University of Chicago.

In the twentieth century, the theoretical and practical branches of educational psychology have developed separately from each other. The name most prominently associated with the scientific, experimental focus is that of Edward L. Thorndike (1874–1949), often called “the father of educational psychology.” Applying the learning principles he had discovered in his animal research to humans, Thorndike became a pioneer in the application of psychological principles to such areas as the teaching of reading, language development, and mental testing. His Introduction to the Theory of Mental and Social Measurements (1904) gave users of intelligence tests access to statistical data about test results. Although Thorndike's emphases were on conditioning and scientific measurement, he was both directly and indirectly responsible for a number of curricular and methodological changes in education throughout the United States. Thorndike is especially well-known as an opponent of the traditional Latin and Greek classical curriculum used in secondary schools, which he helped to discontinue by demonstrating that progress in one subject did not substantially influence progress in another—the major premise on which classical education had been based.

The work of Thorndike's contemporary, Charles Hubbard Judd (1873-1946), provided a marked contrast in its more pragmatic focus on transforming contemporary educational policies and practices. Judd served as director of the University of Chicago School of Education, where he disseminated his philosophy of education. His research interests were applied to the study of school subjects and teaching methods. Concerned with school organization as well, Judd recommended the establishment of both junior high schools and junior colleges and championed equal education opportunities for students of all backgrounds. His published books include Psy-chology of High School Subjects (1915), Psychology of Secondary Education (1927), and Genetic Psychology for Teachers (1939).

Other educational psychologists have focused their work on either measurement of learning outcomes or learning styles and learning theory or school and curriculum reform. The contributions of G. Stanley Hall (1844-1924) to the field of intelligence testing were especially significant and influential. He passed on his view of intelligence as an inherited trait to two of his most famous students, Arnold Gesell (1880–1961) and Lewis Terman (1877–1956). It was Terman who introduced the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales in the United States in 1916, creating new norms based on American standardizing groups. Gesell also made important contributions to the study of human development, and by the 1930s, this subject had become a part of the standard educational psychology texts, and today it is a central area in the field. The learning process, a related area that is also traditionally studied, includes such issues as hierarchies of learning activities, the relationship of learning to motivation, and effective instructional methods.

Division 15 of the American Psychological Association (APA) is devoted to educational psychology. Its members are mostly faculty members at universities, although some work in school settings. In 1982, nearly 14% of the members of the APA were members of this division and identified themselves as educational psychologists. Professional journals in educational psychology include Journal of Educational Psychology, Educational Psychologist, Educational Researcher, Review of Educational Research, and American Educational Research Journal.



Eggen, Paul, and Don Kauchak. Educational Psychology: Windows on Classrooms, 10th edition. Boston: Pearson, 2016.

Forsyth, Donelson. College Teaching: Practical Insights from the Science of Teaching and Learning, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2016.

Schunk, Dale. Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective, 7th edition. Boston: Pearson, 2016.

Slavin, Robert. Educational Psychology: Theory and Practice, 11th edition. Boston: Pearson, 2015.


American Psychological Association Division 15: Educational Psychology, .

National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD, 20814, (301) 657-0270, (866) 331-NASP, Fax: (301) 657-0275, .