In Search Of… The Wary Student, Part I: Educational Psychology

Pack your bags, look to the stars, and prepare to go in search of…


Scientific psychology began with behaviorism, an attempt to explain all responses in terms of stimuli. Cognitivism broadened the realm of scientific endevour by theorizing mental states that can be systematically examined. From this comes modern educational psychology, which attempts to apply cognitivism to educational settings.

Beharioism was mindless, in that it rejected the notion of a “mind.” Starting from the reasonable hypothesis that all variation in dependent variables are explained by indepenent variables, the behaviorists rejected mental states are either controlled or controlling factors. Pavlov’s experiments with his dogs, where salivation was explained in terms of bells, is the defining exmplar of this paradigm.

Nowadays, though, the mind is considered important, and it is explored as if it were an unknown computer. The computer’s limitations are the most interesting things about it. Limited capacity theory is a building-block of information-processing psychology (Lord & Maher, 1990). From Miller (1956)’s “seven, plus or minus two “ to today’s theory of cognitive load (Sweller, 1988) and its evolutionary study (Sweller, 2006), the realization that students have limited mental capacity allows educators to teach more efficiently and more effectively.

Educational psychologists study behavior because of its impact on performance. Behavior, like intelligence, strongly predicts school performance, and behavior is more amenable to modification than intelligence, at least among elementary scholars (Harper, Guidubaldi, & Kehle, 1978). Similarly, continued and intense practice (behavior) in an area has a great deal of influence on developing expertise (Weisberg, 1993; Kiewra, 1994; Csikszentmihalyi, 1996) – more so than even raw power (intelligence) in that field (Gardner, 1998). Studying behaviors, such as how one copies-and-pastes (Igo, Bruning, McCrudden, & Kauffman, 2003; Igo, Bruning, & McCrudden, 2005a; 2005b) and how one takes notes (Titsworth & Kiewra, 2004; Brenton, Kiewra, Whitfil, & Dennison, 1993), changes comprehension.

In Search Of, a tdaxp series
1. Educational Psychology
2. Load and Behavior
3. Experiments
4. Conclusions
5. Bibliography