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Educational Psychology

Understanding How People Learn

Educational psychology is the study of how people function in learning environments: how they learn, who they learn from, how they interact while learning, and what influences learning. Researchers, academics and theorists are usually referred to as educational psychologists. Applied practitioners are most often called school psychologists. Both are trained similarly, with a focus placed on learning behaviors and environmental factors affecting learning.

  • Preparation for a career as an educational psychologist
  • Preparation for a career as a school psychologist

Theory and Research Over Practice

Most educational psychologists are focused on research, theory, teaching and philosophy of education. As a result much of the career potential open to educational psychologists focuses on roles in higher academia, as teachers, researchers and research assistants, and as publishing authors in the field. For many professional educational psychologists a Ph.D. is close to mandatory, with an M.A. serving only to allow a graduate student to teach or serve in a research setting to support themselves while pursuing a higher degree. Though some ultimately settle comfortably as life-long research aides, or community college teachers, an M.A. is usually only a stepping stone to a full doctoral degree.

Though many fine theorists and researchers have “paid their dues” as front-line school psychologists, working with students, parents, teachers and administrators at all levels of the educational system, few find their primary inspiration in the details and hands-on nature of direct school practice. Most educational psychologists have a real and legitimate interest in the larger understanding of what elements in school situations best support successful learning while helping ensure new generations of useful, well-adjusted, stable adults. The focus isn’t on counseling and the individual, but on the method and the nature of learning as an abstract field of study .

Practical Counseling in a Community Setting

School counselors, though given very similar training and theory, function in a radically different environment. Working on the front lines of real school situations, school psychologists are often hard put to claim their primary attention is on the method or nature of learning: far too often school psychologists are busy simply trying to help students survive the complexity of their lives while trying to graduate.

School psychologists often carry unreasonable burdens. They may be asked to predict which children out of hundreds might go on killing sprees, which students are bullies – and how to deal with them , are be asked how to handle everything from college drinking to teen pregnancy. Parents, students, and administrators often congregate around a psychologist, all expecting an answer to problems that often have no clear answers, while leaving little room for a school psychologist to simply focus on trying to establish decent learning conditions for as many students as possible.

In spite of the unreasonable burden, school psychologists provide services that can make the difference between a school drop-out and a self-supporting adult. A school psychologist has the opportunity to combine theoretical knowledge with hands-on experience and knowledge of specific people and circumstances, aiming for a high goal of improved educational options for all.

Both professions require an M.A. as a minimum. School psychologists often are fully qualified for their work at that level of education.

Preparation for either career requires college and graduate school degrees, and can take between six and fourteen total years to complete, if a Ph.D. is factored in. For those seeing advice and recommendations on how best to obtain a career in either educational psychology or school psychology an academic advisor should be approached, or information sought from a referral agency.

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