As a branch of psychology concerned with the learning processes and psychological issues associated with the teaching and training of students, it studies the cognitive development of students and the various factors involved in learning, including aptitude and learning measurement, the creative process, and the motivational forces that influence student-teacher dynamics. Two early leaders in the field were G. Stanley Hall and Edward L. Thorndike.
Educational psychologists "study what people think and do as they teach and learn a particular curriculum in a particular environment where education and training are intended to take place" (Berliner, p.145). The work of educational psychologists focuses "on the rich and significant everyday problems of education" (Wittrock, pp. 132 - 133). Educational psychologists have studied cognition, instruction, learning, motivation, individual differences, and the measurement of human abilities, to name just a few areas that relate to education and schooling. Of all these, perhaps the study of learning is the most closely associated with education.
The Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle discussed topics still studied by educational psychologists - the role of the teacher, the relationship between teacher and student, methods of teaching, the nature and order of learning, the role of affect in learning. In the 1600s the Czech theologian and educator Johann Amos Comenius introduced visual aids and proclaimed that understanding, not memorizing, was the goal of teaching. Writings of European philosophers and reformers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 - 1778), Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746 - 1827), stressed the value of activity, prior experience, and interest. All these ideas are consistent with current work in educational psychology.
The work of Thorndike, Alfred Binet, Jean Piaget, and Benjamin Bloom illustrate earlier connections between psychology and education.
Thorndikehas the reputation for studying teaching, and transfer. He also had a lasting effect on education by demonstrating that learning Greek, Latin, and mathematics did not "exercise the mind" to improve general thinking abilities. Partly because of his research, required study of the classics decreased.
B. F. Skinner's studied operant conditioning,
Binet’s assessments of intelligence and the Stanford-Binet IQ test which was revised four times as of 2002,
Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development is based on the assumption that people try to make sense of the world and actively create their knowledge through direct experience with objects, people, and ideas. Piaget believed that young people pass through four stages in their cognitive development: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete-operational, and formal-operational.
Benjamin Bloom his colleagues developed a taxonomy, or classification system, of educational objectives. Objectives were divided into three domains: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. Teachers, test developers, and curriculum designers use the taxonomies to develop instructional objectives and test questions. It would be difficult to find an educator trained in the past thirty years who had not heard of Bloom's taxonomy in some form. (The cognitive domain taxonomy was revised in 2001 by Lorin W. Anderson and David R. Krathwohl.)
Jerome Bruner's early research on thinking stirred his interest in education. Bruner believed that classroom learning should take place through inductive reasoning, that is, by using specific examples to formulate a general principle.
David Ausubel disagreed. He believed that people acquire knowledge primarily through reception rather than discovery; Ausubel's strategy always began with an advance organizer - a technique still popular in the twenty-first century - which is a kind of conceptual bridge between new material and students' current knowledge.