Educational Psychology: Understanding Learning and Teaching

Educational psychology aims at creating an understanding of how individuals learn and implications for teaching in educational settings. Educational psychology attempts to understand an individual’s development & related factors. To do so, educational psychology offers strategies to enhance the quality of learning and instruction, improve the effectiveness of the teaching-learning process and understand the philosophy of teaching and learning. To create a better understanding of educational psychology, Benjamin Bloom, along with a group of educators, created the Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Educational Psychology: Understanding Learning and Teaching

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Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning

This taxonomy is divided learning into three major domains: cognitive, affective and psychomotor. The taxonomy promotes looking at all the three major areas when teaching, which is, cognitive, affective and psychomotor. The importance, however, was focused on the cognitive domain where Bloom theorised that six categories were important in the cognition of learning:

  • Knowledge – recollection of old information
  • Comprehension – understanding new information
  • Application – applying previous knowledge in new areas of knowledge
  • Analysis – breaking down information for understanding
  • Synthesis – using prior knowledge to reshape the material
  • Evaluation – judging content without a specified answer

Bloom’s taxonomy is used in classrooms as it encourages students to think hence increases their thought processes. Teachers can use various levels listed in the taxonomy to check a student’s learning of a concept. Along with Bloom’s Taxonomy, there have been prior attempts at looking at learning. The following article aims to look at learning styles and aiding learning in gifted and intellectually disabled learners.

Learning Styles:  Learning Through Modification of Behaviour

Learning is defined as “ the acquisition of novel information, behaviours, or abilities after practice, observation, or other experiences, as evidenced by a change in behaviour, knowledge. One of the most prominent perspectives in understanding learning styles is the behavioural perspective. While the cognitive and constructivist perspective looks at learning as a result of memory and development, the behavioural perspective attributes learning as a result of the individual’s behaviour. Hence the behavioural perspective is deconstructed to look at impacts of behavioural modification on learning. This is known to have a crucial role in understanding learning as it looks at an individual’s behaviour as a tool for instilling learning.

Behavioural Perspective

The Behavioural Perspective looks at learning as “cause and effect” mechanism where external factors lead to a response. Hence, the behavioural perspective looks at conditioning, and it is known to be the most prominent theory in understanding learning as a result of an external factor. Conditioning is divided into two fields: classical and operant. Each look at learning as a response to stimuli.

Classical conditioning, theorised by Ivan Pavlov, looks at learning by association, pairing automatic responses to new stimuli. This can be implemented in the classroom by conditioning children to behave and understand concepts. In a classroom setting a teacher, screaming can result in fear in the learner hence condition the learner to this response. The screaming of the teacher will create a conditioned stimulus of fear over time. As a result, the learner will know that misbehaviour or failure to understand concepts will result in the response of screaming and hence, to avoid that will be motivated to learn.

Operant conditioning, theorised by B.F. Skinner, looks at learning as an individual’s voluntary change in behaviour as a result of environmental reinforcement. The reinforcement is categorised as positive and negative, with each creating a modification in behaviour. Positive reinforcement encourages the learner by rewarding them when a new concept it learnt. This motivates the learner hence promoting learning. Negative reinforcement, however, helps to learn as a result of avoiding undesirable consequences. This can include punishment or removal of pleasurable tasks in the classroom hence promoting learning as a response to prevent adverse effects.

The effectiveness of reinforcement is seen to have a better impact when continuous and regular as it remains in the learner’s long term memory hence promoting learning. However, once a concept is learnt periodic reinforcement works better as students who are on a fixed schedule of reinforcement show less persistence and faster extinction of the desirable behaviour than those who are on a variable schedule of reinforcement.

Special Education

Learning methods can vary across schools and cultures. Factors such as the methods of teaching, classroom communication, the curriculum are some features that also change. However, it must be noted that similar to the variation in education; there is also a variation in learners. It has been observed that there are learners who vary from the general population on two extremes: intellectually disabled and giftedness. These variations require specialised methods of teaching and interventions to cater to their needs. Special education caters to Intellectually disabled and gifted learners by creating interventions in their education to cater to their needs.

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Interventions Intellectually Disabled Learners:

Intellectual disability is defined as individuals who have an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) of 70 or below, while the average IQ is 100. This means that individuals with IQs lower than 70 have a limited mental ability in that it produces difficulty in adapting to the demands of mainstream education. Intellectual disabilities are a result of genetic factors (which result in conditions such as Down’s Syndrome) and environmental factors such as early age deprivation and physical trauma. Few examples of learning disabilities are Autism and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Learners with intellectual disability may face challenges in learning at the same pace as their abled peers and might need more attention.

Interventions for learners with intellectual disabilities are usually started at an early age. This includes the identification of disability and catering to it. However, most intellectual disabilities are not noticed until the learner is in school. As intellectual disabilities vary from mild to severe, each requires a different intervention. For those with mild disabilities, they can be integrated into regular schools where they learn along with abled learners. However, they are given interventions such as individual attention in classes, extra class time or more time to complete tasks. Those with more severe disabilities are segregated and are taught in schools designed to cater to their needs. This allows them to learn with peers who are similar to them hence providing them with the extra support that they need, which are seen in schools equipped for the intellectually disabled.

Interventions for Gifted Learners:

Gifted learners are those with learning capabilities that are above the average learner hence allowing them to learn faster. Gifted learners have an IQ of over 120 with those with IQs above 140 being the most gifted learners. While gifted learners are smarter and learn fasted they are posed with the challenges of not being able to learn with average peers as they are agitated by the slower pace and more extended learning periods which is not catered to their needs.

While most schools insist on gifted learners learning with their peers, some schools offer interventions for the gifted. The three prominent interventions are grouping, acceleration and enrichment. Grouping is the process of creating separate classrooms where all the learners are gifted hence resulting in intellectual equivalence amongst peers. This allows teachers to teach per the student’s needs, which enables students to learn content that is catered to their level of intellect. Acceleration is the process of allowing gifted students to learn at a faster pace while placed amongst average peers. This enables gifted learners to learn content that is meant for learners older than them once they finish learning content intended for members within their age group. Enrichment is the process of enrolling gifted learners with average peers while allowing the gifted to participate in activities that are more challenging and will enable the application of learned content and enhance their understanding.

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While education is an essential need in an individuals life, the effectiveness of their education and the processing of information impacts the quality of education. While each learner is unique educational psychology attempts to understand teaching and learning from a psychological perspective. Bloom’s taxonomy looks at learning and creates a seriation of learning processes. While looking at learning processes from a psychological viewpoint of behavioural, cognitive and constructivist perspective, the focus is on the behavioural perspective as it deals with modifications to one’s behaviour as a tool for learning. The modifications for behaviour are done through the two types of conditioning, classical and operant. Understanding the method of conditioning teaching helps promote learning by looking at the learner’s behaviours as the tool.

The ability to learn can also have variations as it is based on an individual’s capability. Looking at one’s intelligence learners who fall on the two extremes from the average are classified as intellectually disabled and gifted. Each of these requires special catering to meet their learning pace, the time needed to learn and capability. To ensure they are satisfied, intellectually disabled and gifted are offered interventions that equip them to learn without discomfort and distress. While learning and teaching may vary across cultures and curriculum, the aspects covered in the article apply to across cultures and curriculum. The basis of the learning styles and aids can be modified as needed, which allows universal implementation.


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Sternberg, R. J., & Williams, W. M. (2009). Educational Psychology. Pearson.

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Shubha Arvind is currently pursuing a degree in Psychology with an Open Minor at FLAME University. Her passion for culture studies, sociology and film and she aims to focus her minor around them. She actively participates in discussions and hopes to make a change. Her hobbies include playing the violin, swimming and art.