The Historical Processes of Educational Psychology

  • 600 BCE

    Plato and Aristotle

    Plato and Aristotle
    Discussed the kinds of education appropriate to different kinds of people; the role of the teacher; the relations between teacher and student; the means and methods of teaching; the nature of learning; the order of learning; affect and learning; and learning apart from a teacher.
  • 500 BCE


    Wrote on the advantages of schooling and the influence of the home on learning.
  • 100


    Argued in favor of public rather than private education to preserve democratic ideals. He condemned physical force as a method of discipline, commenting that good teaching and an attractive curriculum take care of most behavior problems. He urged that teachers take into account individual differences, suggesting that they take time to study the unique characteristics of their students. Quintilian's arguments, although archaic in form, are still functional educational psychology.
  • 1492

    Juan Luis Vives

    Juan Luis Vives
    Wrote very much as a contemporary educational psychologist. He stated to teachers and others with educational responsibilities that there should be an orderly presentation of the facts to be learned. He noted that what is to be learned must be practiced, and in this way he anticipated Thorndike's law of exercise. He wrote on practical knowledge and the need to engage student interest, anticipating Dewey.
  • Comenius

    A humanist writing at the beginning of the modern era, also influenced both educational and psycho-educational thought. He wrote texts that were based on a developmental theory and in them inaugurated the use of visual aids in instruction. He recommended that instruction start with the general and then move to the particular. He taught that understanding, not memory, is the goal of instruction.
  • Johann Friedrich Herbart

    Johann Friedrich Herbart
    He not only may be considered the first voice of the modern era of psychoeducational thought, but his disciples, the Herbartians, played a crucial role in preparing the way for the scientific study of education. They promoted the five formal steps for teaching virtually any subject matter: (a) preparation (of the mind of the student), (b) presentation (of the material to be learned), (c) comparison, (d) generalization, and (e) application.
  • Science and Education

    Experimental methods in education were brand new phenomena before the turn of the 19th century. These new methods were not accepted by all educators as appropriate to the study of educational topics. There was still opposition to psychological science in education at that time. This was based, in part, on the very strong belief that education is a moral and philosophical endeavor, and therefore, its problems cannot be solved by scientific study.
  • G. Stanley Hall

    G. Stanley Hall
    Hall was arguably the most influential psychologist in the United States in the years
    just before and after the turn of the 19th century. Founder of the child-study movement. Hall did successful lectures on psychoeducational issues and he was offered a job as a professor of psychology and pedagogy at Johns Hopkins University. The research laboratory Hall founded at Johns Hopkins was the first formal laboratory for the study of psychology in the United States.
  • Edward Lee Thorndike

    The father of Educational Psychology, science that prospered thanks to his contributions. Early in his career, he wrote, "One can readily show that the emotionally indifferent attitude of the scientific observer is ethically a far higher attitude than the loving interest of the poet".
  • Child study movement

    Child study movement
    With his study of the contents of children's minds, Hall begun in 1883 among Boston kindergarten children the American developmental psychology in general and the child study movement in particular. Hall inquired into children's conceptions of nature, including animals, plants, and the solar system. He questioned what children knew about numbers, religion, death, fear, sex, and their own bodies.
  • William James

    William James
    Can be considered the central figure in the establishment of psychology in America. James's (1890) Principles of Psychology, published after 12 years of labor, was the preeminent event in American psychology. The Principles also made much out of the role of nurture. James called acquired habit. It is early acquired habit that guides behavior and provides the glue that holds society together. Thus, James saw education as a crucial element of society.
  • Thorndike & Experimental psychology

    Thorndike & Experimental psychology
    Thorndike studied psychology from James Sully's Outlines of Psychology, the first edition of which was published in 1884. Thorndike went to Harvard for two years (1895-1897), where he came under the influence of the brilliant and eclectic William James. There he took up experimental psychology, first with children and then with animals as subjects.
  • John Dewey

    John Dewey
    His contributions were in three intertwined fields of study: philosophy, psychology, and pedagogy. Dewey obtained his doctorate at Hopkins in 1884, with Hall as his advisor. His first major article in psychology came out in 1896. It was on the relations between stimuli and responses. Dewey noted that stimuli and responses occur as part of previous and future chains, because that is the nature of experience and that the stimulus and response as inseparable entities.
  • Powerful forces lined up against Dewey

    Powerful forces lined up against Dewey
    When he was introducing the "new" education in the first yearbook of the Herbartians U.S. Commissioner of Education William T. Harris (1897) was still advocating traditional methods. He stated the four cardinal rules for efficient instruction: "The child must be regular [in attendance] and punctual [in assignments], silent and industrious. It is this which 'builds character'. Obedience to authority was considered necessary for developing the child's personal sense of responsibility and duty.
  • Joseph Mayer Rice

    Joseph Mayer Rice
    Classroom observer and the father of research on teaching. Rice endured great difficulties for his beliefs just a few years before the experimental psychology of E. L. Thorndike was deemed acceptable. In 1897, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Rice was asked to present his empirical classroom-based research on the futility of the spelling grind to the annual meeting of school superintendents.
  • Animal Intelligence

    Animal Intelligence
    Thorndike wrote his classic thesis, Animal Intelligence, and gained his first notoriety as a psychologist of considerable talent.
  • Talks to Teachers on Psychology

    Talks to Teachers on Psychology
    In 1891, Harvard's administrators asked William James to provide some lectures on the new psychology to the teachers of Cambridge, Massachusetts. These talks were polished and expanded over the years and published in 1899 as the now famous Talks to Teachers on Psychology. This event marks the beginnings of both the APA and the field of educational psychology.
  • Dewey and teachers

    Dewey and teachers
    Dewey also recognized the uniqueness of the teacher's role as a fellow human being in a community of learners. In his presidential address to the APA in 1899, he chose to discuss educational issues, particularly psychology and social practice. He pointed out the failure likely to occur should educational psychology not recognize that the teacher lives in a social sphere--he is a member and an organ of a social life.
  • Thorndike as an instructor

    Thorndike as an instructor
    In 1899, Thorndike was brought to Teachers College as an instructor in psychology, where he remained a dominant force in psychology for 43 years, writing 50 books and 400 articles, all without a typewriter or a calculator. He succeed in banishing mental discipline with his transfer studies and his Educational Psychology textbooks, his texts on mental and social measurement, and those on general psychology.
  • Thorndike's Introduction to Teaching

    Thorndike believed that only empirical work should guide education. His faith in experimental psychological science and statistics was unshakable. In his Introduction to Teaching, he wrote that psychological science is to teaching as botany is to farming, mechanics is to architecture, and physiology and pathology are to the physician.
  • Thorndike’s faith

    Thorndike’s faith
    Thorndike showed an unbridled faith in science in the introduction to the brand new Journal of Educational Psychology and stated that “He had absolute certainty about the potential of a rational, scientific approach to education”.
  • The Boston study

    The Boston study
    Hall, with his students and coworkers, had developed 194 questionnaires to determine what youngsters and adolescents knew. The Boston study that launched Hall's career was research of this type, carried out by the teachers of Boston. It was a brilliant educational psychology investigation, and because there had never been any studies like it in America, it may qualify as the first empirical educational psychology study that was widely disseminated, as well.
  • Thorndike’s quantitative methods

    Thorndike’s quantitative methods
    Thorndike's surety about science carried over into his work on quantitative methods, where he wrote eloquently about the power of educational measurement. Thorndike promoted the belief that science and only science would save education.
  • Before World War II

    By the time World War II was near Freeman (1938) remarked that what had been accomplished appeared to be superficial, addressing the husk, not the kernel, of the educational process. He speculated that the scientific movement that Thorndike headed had gone as far as it could in improving education, wrong directions were taken by the field. It was a time when members of educational psychology refused to take seriously the world of schooling.
  • After world war II

    After world war II
    Psychologists and educational psychologists found meaningful work to perform in the war, because they better than others could advise on how to take a farmer or a store clerk and 8 weeks later provide an electronics repairman or a bombardier. They tested, evaluated, and designed instruction. Intermediate inventive minds were needed to solve the real problems of education. The war did not require theoretical elegance from its psychologists. It required solving practical, not laboratory, problems.
  • Dael Wolfle

    Dael Wolfle
    Dael Wolfle (1947), writing about psychological textbooks in 1947, gave a formula for writing textbooks in educational and child psychology. Wolfle stated that “If you wish to write an educational psychology text the chapters will have such titles as Learning in the Schoolroom, Measuring Student Progress, and Social Psychology of the Schoolroom. ...” Wolfle added that if you were writing an educational psychology text you had to delete all references to subjects and insert the term pupil.
  • Retreating experimental psychology

    Retreating experimental psychology
    Educational psychologists seemed to be interested in the laws of learning, not in issues of schooling and teaching. Worse, a committee noted that educational psychologists could neither understand nor be understood by educators. Another report issued in 1954 pointed out that the most influential theorists were abandoning educational psychology and retreating to the field of experimental psychology.
  • Educational Psychology at Mid-Century

    Educational Psychology at Mid-Century
    At least one part of educational psychology was due to the overall success of
    psychology in the United States. From Thorndike's time to the 1960s, the texts were usually rehashed versions of Thorndike's S-R associationism and general psychology, with the students required to do all the work to figure out how that material applied to education.
  • John B. Carroll

    John B. Carroll
    One of the most honored educational psychologists, published his model of school learning in 1963, he also wrote about the discipline of educational psychology.
  • Lee J. Cronbach

    Lee J. Cronbach
    Lee J. Cronbach, at the APA convention in 1974, on the occasion of his receipt of one of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Awards for 1973, Cronbach made it clear that inconsistent findings hindered certain kinds of progress in psychological field. He stated that “Once we attend to the interactions in our data, he said, we enter a hall of mirrors that extends to infinity. For to understand individuals in their contexts, Cronbach said, is no mean aspiration.
  • Philip Jackson

    Philip Jackson
    Philip Jackson laid the problems of educational psychology squarely at Thorndike's feet: Thorndike first failed to distinguish between the goals of and the methods used in the physical and the social sciences. Second, Thorndike did not pay enough attention to the social and historical contexts in which people lived and in which schools operated. Third, Thorndike had a blind faith that all of the achievements of science were desirable. Finally, Thorndike overlooked the aesthetic.
  • The Psychology of School Subjects

    The Psychology of School Subjects
    The psychology of school subjects is not merely the commonsense psychology of Thorndike, but a cognitive psychological approach that is equally concerned about the thinking of the learner, the structure of the discipline to be learned, and the form of explanations available to the teacher.
  • Methodology

    Methodology in psychology increasingly has expanded to make use of (a) cases -as to document the genuine problems faced by real people in education; (b) naturalistic studies--so that psychologists may enhance external validity; (c) qualitative research and (d) small samples, intensively studied.
  • Assessment

    Nowadays psychologists see more concern for (a) the assessment of portfolios (b) performance tests (c) informal classroom assessment by teachers and (d) program evaluation which now is seen as a political process, to be conducted by a whole range of social scientists and humanistic scholars, to educate decision makers for making responsible choices in a democratic nation.
  • Instructional Psychology

    Instructional Psychology
    A major area of educational psychology has been instructional psychology. Writing for the Annual Review of Psychology a decade ago, Lauren Resnick (1981) noted that the problems of real-world instruction were beginning to guide the development
    of instructional psychology: An interesting thing has happened to instructional psychology. It has become part of the mainstream of research on human cognition, learning and development.
  • Research on Teaching

    Research on Teaching
    From the 1960s on, educational psychologists have developed a specialty area in research on teaching. From initial simple models of behavior using traditional psychological methodology, they have moved to more sophisticated, cognitively oriented, naturalistic, contextually sensitive, participatory studies.
  • More studies

    More studies
    In every area of educational psychology, we see today more studies of psychoeducational phenomena, and more methods for the study of those phenomena, that are compatible with the ideas of our grandfathers and granduncles, William James, G. Stanley Hall, and John Dewey.
  • Recent Trends

    Recent Trends
    Educational psychology has been slowly changing. There are already many contemporary trends that demonstrate that a high level of productivity within scientific educational psychology can come from an increased concern for the problems of education and its practitioners.
  • Resources

    Berliner, D. (1993). The 100-year journey of educational psychology. October 20, 2017. Arizona State University. Website: http://www.wou.edu/~girodm/611/Berliner_100years.pdf