Definition, Nature, Scope and Meaning of Educational Psychology


Meaning of Psychology

Psychology as an organized field of study is not very old. As an independent discipline, psychology acquired separate status very recently. Formally, psychology was studied as a sub-branch of  philosophies. 

Therefore, its first definition from the Greek words: Psyche (soul) and Logos (Science) was given by the philosophers.

This psychology was defined then, as "the science of soul".

This definition was derived from the argument put forward by a Greek philosopher -Democritus -who claimed that everything is composed of indivisible unitary materials known as Atoms. Thus, people are constituted of body atoms and soul atoms. Hence, psychology as a sub- branch of philosophy was intended to study the soul of the people.  As time progressed, some contemporary philosophers questioned the nature of soul -how can soul be objectively defined, therefore, another definition was evolved for psychology with Descartes who claimed that an individual is made up of body and mind, psychology took another meaning:  The science of mind.

This definition of psychology remained in vogue for a long time. However, the same question resurfaced again -How can mind be objectively defined and studied.

Thus, this definition was described by the philosophers. Then psychology was defined as the science of consciousness on the basis that human beings are conscious of their external environment thence.

This definition was later on rejected on the ground that consciousness is a negligible portion of an individual's total personality.

Furthermore, contemporary philosophers claimed that consciousness cannot be objectively studied by absorbing an individual's activities.

A great history was made in 19th and 20th centuries concerning the development of psychology as an independent discipline. With the coming to light of German and American philosopher psychologists, psychology was detached from philosophy and given a new definition and system of approach. Hence, psychology was defined as a "science of behaviour" which can be observed, verified, measured and studied in a systematic manner-in fact, in a scientific way.

Psychology thus, can be simply defined as a study of individual’s behaviour which consists of overt actions that are as a result of his response to stimuli.

Branches of Psychology

Psychology is sub-divided in various branches:

i) General psychology

ii) Human psychology

iii) Animal psychology

iv) Genetic psychology

v) Developmental psychology

vi) Educational psychology

vii) Abnormal psychology

viii) Social psychology

ix) Experimental psychology

x) Physiological psychology

xi) Industrial psychology

xii) Military psychology

xiii) Clinical psychology

xiv) Environmental psychology

xv Evolutionary psychology


Meaning of Educational Psychology

Educational psychology is that branch of psychology in which the findings of psychology are applied in the field of education. It is the scientific study of human behaviour in educational setting.

According to Charles. E. Skinner, “Educational psychology deals with the behaviour of human beings in educational situations”.  Thus educational psychology is a behavioural science with two main references– human behaviour and education. In the words of E.A. Peel, “Educational Psychology is the science of Education”.

Education by all means is an attempt to mould and shape the behaviour of the pupil. It aims to produce desirable changes in him for the all-round development of his personality.

The essential knowledge and skill to do this job satisfactorily is supplied by Educational Psychology. In the words of E.A. Peel, “Educational psychology helps the teacher to understand the development of his pupils, the range and limits of their capacities, the processes by which they learn and their social relationships.”

In this way, the work of the Educational Psychologists resembles with that of an Engineer, who is a technical expert. The Engineer supplies all the knowledge and skill essential for the accomplishment of the job satisfactorily… for example, construction of a bridge.

In the same way Educational Psychologists, who is a technical expert in the field of Education, supplies all the information, principles and techniques essential for understanding the behaviour of the pupil in response to educational environment and desired modification of his behaviour to bring an all-round development of his personality.

In this way, it is quite reasonable to call Educational Psychology as a science and technology of Education.

Thus, Educational Psychology concerned primarily with understanding the processes of teaching and learning that take place within formal environments and developing ways of improving those methods. It covers important topics like learning theories; teaching methods; motivation; cognitive, emotional, and moral development; and parent-child relationships etc.

In short, it is the scientific discipline that addresses the questions: “Why do some students learn more than others?” and “What can be done to improve that learning?”

Nature of Educational Psychology

The nature of educational psychology is regarded as scientific because it is organized, systematic and universally accepted body, wherein the facts remain constantly in search of truth through research and experimentation. Employs scientific methods in its study and its results are subjected to further verification and modification.

The following under listed points explained the nature of educational psychology

1. Laws of educational psychology are universal: Educational psychology possesses a well-organized, systematic and universally accepted body of facts supported by the relevant psychological laws and principles.

2. Scientific methods: Educational psychology employs scientific methods and adopts a scientific approach for studying the learner’s behaviour such as observation, experimentation, clinical investigation and generalization, etc.

3. Constant search of the truth: The results of any study in educational psychology can be challenged and are modified or altered in terms of the latest explanations and findings. So the findings of any study are never taken as absolute and permanent.

4. Reliability: Educational psychology does not accept hearsay and not take anything for granted. It emphasizes that essentially there is some definite causes linked with a behaviour and the causes of this behaviour are not related to supernatural phenomena.

5. Positive science: Educational psychology is a positive science rather than a normative science.

6. Applied behavioural science: Educational psychology is an applied/ behavioural science.

7. Developing positive science: Educational psychology cannot claim the status of a developed positive science like other natural or applied sciences. It is considered as one of the developing positive sciences of the learner’s behaviour.

Thus, educational psychology is an applied, positive, social, specific and practical science. While general science deals with behaviour of the individuals in various spheres, educational psychology studies the behaviour of the individual in educational sphere only.

W.A. Kelly (1941) listed the nature of Educational Psychology as follows:
1.  To give a knowledge of the nature of the child.
2.  To give understanding of the nature, aims and purposes of education.
3.  To give understanding of the scientific methods and procedures which have been used in arriving at the facts and principles of educational psychology.
4.  To present the principles and techniques of learning and teaching.
5.  To give training in methods of measuring abilities and achievement in school subjects.
6.  To give a knowledge of the growth and development of children.
7.  To assist in the better adjustment of children and to help them to prevent maladjustment.
8.  To study the educational significance and control of emotions.
9. To give an understanding of the principles and techniques of correct training.

Scope of Educational Psychology

This is a branch of psychology, which deals with the application of psychological theories (findings) into the field of education.

The scope of educational psychology includes the followings:

1. Learner: His developmental characteristics, individual differences, intelligence, personality and mental health.

2. Learning process: Theories of learning, motivation of learning, factors affecting learning;( the use of rewards and punishment, class size, expectations of the teacher, teacher/ student interaction) diagnosis of learning problems, etc.

3. Evaluation: Evaluation of learning outcomes, and are of statistical methods in conducting research related to practice and theory of education.


Methods of Educational Psychology

Educational psychology is the scientific or systematic study of the behaviour of the learner in relation to his educational environment. This behaviour can be studied by a simple approach called observation.

However, this observation method has to be adjusted depending upon the conditions in which observations have to be made, the procedure and tools adopted.

Below listed are the various methods of educational psychology

1. Self-examination method: This method which is the oldest method of studying behaviour where the learner should make a self-observation, i.e. looking inwards. For example, when a person is angry he may be asked to determine how he felt during that period of anger by his own observation. This method is simple, direct, and cheap and reveals one’s behaviour. But this method lacks reliability and can be used only for adult normal human beings. This method requires the support of other methods which are more reliable.

2. Observation method: In this method the learner’s behaviour is observed under natural conditions by other individuals. Such observation will be interpreted according to the perception of the observer. This helps to find out behaviour by observing a person’s external behaviour. For example, if a person frowns we can say that he is angry. But when we are studying behaviour in natural conditions we have to wait for the event to take place. This method is helpful in studying the behaviour of the children. However, this method will explain only observed behaviour, subjectivity of the investigation may affect the results.

3. Experimental method: In this method, behaviour is observed and recorded under controlled conditions. This is done in psychological laboratory or in classrooms or outside the classrooms in certain physical or social environment. Accordingly the cause and effect relationships are established. Theories of behaviour can be developed. These experiments require the creation of artificial environment. Therefore, the scope is limited. Human behaviour is very dynamic and unpredictable. This method is also costly and time consuming.

4. Case history method: This method is one of the steps used in the clinical method of studying behaviour. This method is used for those who are suffering from physical or mental disorders. For this the case history has to be made of the earlier experiences of the individual which may be responsible for the present behaviour. Information is also collected from his parents, family, relatives, guardians, neighbours, friends, teachers, and from reports about the individual’s past. This information will enable the clinical psychologists to diagnose and suggest treatment if there is any problem. However, this method will be successful only if the clinical researcher is technically efficient. The findings are limited to the individuals observed and the findings cannot be generalized.

Objectives of Educational Psychology

The general objectives of educational psychology are follows:

1. To provide a body of facts and methods this can be used in solving teaching problems

2. To develop a scientific and problem-solving attitude.

3. To train in thinking psychologically about educational problems.


Teaching Objectives of Educational Psychology

1. To advance an understanding and appreciation of the dietary and environmental factors which underline learning ability.

2. To offer base for understanding the nature and principles of learning and to supply the techniques for its improvement.

3. To offer understanding and appreciated factors influencing individual ability to learn.

4. To offer understanding of the external factors like training aids, libraries, classrooms which are largely within the control of the teacher and the institution.

5. To evaluate teaching efficiency.

6. To develop an appreciation of the individual and importance of the individual with their individual differences.


Psychology and its Relation to Education

The contribution of psychology to education can be viewed from two facets:

Contribution to Theory of Education

This includes the followings:

1. Aid teachers in understanding the developmental characteristics of learners so as to effectively impact instruction and mould the behaviour of learners.

2.  Aid teachers to understand the nature of the learning process.

3.  Assist teachers to provide for individual differences within learners.

4.  Aid teachers to know effective methods of teaching.

Contribution to Practice of Educational Psychology

This includes the following:

1.   Curriculum planning.

2.   Classroom management.

3.   Using teaching aids/materials.

4.   Time-tabling.

§   Schools administration.

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