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Psychological Foundations of Education

This course will introduce you to some of the main thinkers in educational psychology. We've called the course Learning, Knowledge, and Human Development.

We will be dealing with the history and the paradigms in educational psychology.

There are three that we're gonna focus on:
  1. The first one will be about behaviorism and conditioned response.
  2. The second one is about brain developmentalism.
  3. The third is about social cognitivism. 
First, we're gonna the deal with behaviorism and conditioned response. Here we're going to look at three psychologists. men of the 20th century were interested in the way in which environmental sources impacted our learning and the role of intelligence in the limits of learning. the first one is-is-is Ivan Pavlov, a Russian Noble Prize winner. And he worked to establish the ways in which you could condition or stimulate behavior. 

Psychological Foundations of Education
image source: pexels.com

Secondly, we're gonna look at John Watson, an American. he too was interested in how to predict and control behavior. And in fact, he established the scholarly field of behaviorism. 

The third one of course is BF Skinner, also an American, and he believed that people's behaviors were dependent on the consequences of previous actions. Thus they can be conditioned to respond in specific ways. We're also gonna look at two others who were part of this period. 

Alfred Binet, a Frenchmen who incited the IQ test originally as a method for providing remedial help to those who wanted it. And Henry Goddard, an American who expanded the uses of IQ tests, and also he was interested in using it as a way to detect feeble-minded immigrants into America. And in fact, he was quite influential in the formation of special education.

All these thinkers are highly cited and had tremendous implications for education and Bill will now elaborate on that. Well, I'm gonna start looking at some of these people in a little bit more detail. Not much detail, this is really just a very, rough overview, or a schematic overview tryna introduce some of the key ideas that have influenced education over the last century and a half essentially.

Ivan Pavlov is in a way, one of the founders of modern psychology and is famous for what's called Pavlov's dog or Pavlov's dogs in his laboratory. So what-what he did was he got the dogs used to the idea that when a buzzer was-was sounded that they were gonna get food. It's not-it's to be expected that when a dog sees food, he might salivate. But what was interesting was that the dogs learned that the buzzer meant that food was coming and they salivated at the sound of the buzzer. This is the idea of a conditioned reflex that was constructed by-by Pavlov and in a way based on the premise that animals can learn in the same way that humans can learn.

John B. Watson is the person who introduced the word behaviorism. And the basic premise behind Watson's thinking was we really can't know much about consciousness in a self-reflective kind of way. What we can really know about is the scientific observation of what people do, hence the idea of behaviorism. So what he was really trying to do is move thought about the mind and learning, away from introspection, philosophical self-reflection if you like.

Towards a scientific observation of actual behavior. This is a quite a-a important idea that he invents that becomes then tremendously influential in the 20th century. Moving on, perhaps the most famous behaviorist of all is B.F. Skinner is seen here in this picture with some of his pigeons. He worked with rats, he worked with pigeons he invented a thing called the Skinner box. And what he did with the Skinner box was he, um you know gave all sorts of rewards and reinforcements to animals with food, based on certain behaviors that they did. And the-he showed that in fact, it was possible to train, um rats and-and pigeons in these kinds of ways. He became a kind of a notorious kind of person.

People think now of Skinner in quite negative kinds of terms. And behaviorism in quite negative kinds of terms, but in a sense, it-behind this was this idea about the environmental conditions of learning. Which are common to all sentient creatures. So here is the the- little picture of the Skinner box. This is actually taken from one of Skinner's books, it's one of his actual diagrams of a Skinn-Skinner box. And the idea that he developed was one of operant conditioning. Which is, you know, you're in this conditions of behavior, these things get reinforced, the operant condition is the process that-that Skinner describes.

A funny story, in a way, it's funny tragic, I don't know what we can think about it now, is that he even-for his own baby, this is his own child, invented a thing called the Heir Conditioner, spelled H-E-I-R. which was this box in which you could put a baby just with a diaper there was a roll of paper at the bottom that you could see, at the bottom of the image there, a roll of paper where if the-the-the baby soiled, or made a mess, you just rolled the paper out the other end, it's in the same temperature all the time. And the family's pretty protected from the baby as well around the nose. And when Ladies Home Journal wrote a story about it, obviously the editor wasn't terribly amused and they called it baby in a box.

So what Skinner tried to do was transfer the learning that he had achieved in his laboratory with rats and pigeons, literally to human beings in the case of his own child. But then becomes an advocate of teaching machines. So what Skinner does in the 1950s is patent a teaching machine. Now, this is kind of interesting these days because one of the questions, you know I would like to ask, I mean here's a picture of Skinner's patent. And then here is a picture of, um a teaching machine that-that Skinner uses to illustrate learning activities. It's worth stopping for a moment to read the caption. Because it does have the same kinds of processes around operant conditioning that he tried out with animals. Which he was then trying out with humans.

The critique of this stuff is that it's very, very mechanical. it's individual stimulus and response. It's a kind of a-it-it-it's- it's portrayed as dehumanizing. But, what's kind of interesting about it nevertheless is the fact that what he's interested in doing and what the behaviorist, in general, are interested in doing, is tracing the dynamics of environmental in learning, these micro conditions of learning things incrementally based on things that are moving in the environment.

In a way, it's dismissed perhaps a little bit too easily these days. in terms of its basic insights. In the same period, we also have the emergence of the notion of intelligence, intelligence testing began with Alfred Binet. And in a way, this is kind of the opposite of behaviorism in a way, it's not about the conditions of learning from the environment, it's about innate capacities which are variable across human beings and which essentially are not changeable. The reason why we have an intelligence test is, yes we can learn certain things, but only w-within the parameters of what our intelligence is, and intelligence is variable.

The founder of this idea is Alfred Binet, and then the person who actually then creates the idea of an IQ and the mathematics of calculating IQ scores is Goddard, an American, Goddard. Now it might seem just incidentally, that Mary and I speaking in this very overview, schematic kind of way about these people just by way of introducing them, and our new learning online website which supports this course.

What we've done is we've taken extracts from the source texts, it's actually very, very interesting to go back and read what these people are actually saying. It's too easy, a century or a century and a half later, to be regarding them as caricatures. These are complex, smart people what they're saying is often flawed, and it's often problematic. But it's instructive to go back to the actual sources, They're there on the website. we have texts and images and even for the more recent people, some videos, which allow you to get a feel for who these people really were and what their agenda was at the time.

Behaviorism remains a very powerful force even today. It's taught a lot of people still believe in it. But classical behaviorists, and this is important, did not allow for free will or agency in human being behavior. For them, everything depended on the environment and the patent responses that can be conditioned by positing a negative i-stimuli. Although the insight into the role of the environment is really valuable, it has led in education, to very narrow and repetitive drills and rewards and punishments in educational settings that don't necessarily extend the learner's in the way they might be. And also, it does not allow or explain how language develops.

So although it's still there as a choice that we can make in terms of modifying behavior it does have some strong limitations about what it does to the lifeworld of the learners.