Grinder (1989) provides a detailed history of the field of EducationalPsychology, the following material is a brief overview of that history.
Grinder traces the origins of Educational Psychology to Plato who believed thatall knowledge is innate at birth and is perfectible by experiential learningduring growth. Aristotle, Plato's student, was the first to observe that "association"among ideas facilitated understanding and recall. He believed thatcomprehension was aided by contiguity, succession, similarity and contrast.
In the late 1600's, John Locke advanced the hypothesis that people learnprimarily from external forces. He believed that the mind was like a blank wastablet (tabula rasa), and that successions of simple impressions giverise to complex ideas through association and reflection. Locke is creditedwith establishing "empiricism" as a criterion for testing thevalidity of knowledge, thus providing a conceptual framework for laterdevelopment of excremental methodology in the natural and social sciences.
John Comenius (1592-1670) was a Moravian clergyman, and the first person torecognize the age differences in children's ability to learn. He also noticedthat children learn more effectively when they are involved with experiencesthat they can assimilate.
In France, during the mid 18th century, Jean Jacques Rousseau put forth a newtheory of educational pedagogy. In his famous work Emile, published in1762, he explained his views on the benefits of health and physical exercise,and the belief that knowledge acquisition occurs though experience and thatreason and investigation should replace arbitrary authority. He proposededucating children according to their natural inclinations, impulses andfeelings.
Some people consider Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) to be the firstapplied educational psychologist. He was one of the first educators whoattempted to put Rousseau's teaching into practice and teach children by drawingupon their natural interests and activities.
Herbert Spencer helped transform sentiments about pedagogy into systematictheory and method through his emphasis on the scientific study of theeducational process.
Johann Friedrich Herbart is acknowledged as the "father of scientificpedagogy" (in Grinder, 1989). He was the first scientist to distinguishinstructional process from subject matter. According to Herbart, interestdevelops when already strong and vivid ideas are hospitable towards new ones,thus past associations motivate apperception of current ones. Herbartianism, inpredicting that learning follows from building up sequences of ideas importantto the individual, gave teachers a semblance of a theory of motivation.
Herbartian psychology led to the founding of Wilhelm Wundt's laboratory in1879. Wundt extended Herbart's theory of apperception into a theory ofconsciousness, whereby he sought to explain associations among mental processes.
One of Wundt's students, Edward Bradford Titchener (1867- 1927) was one of thefirst eminent Educational Psychologists to practice in America. He was directorof the psychology laboratory at Cornell University, and he regarded the study ofthe generalized mind to be the only legitimate purpose of psychologicalinvestigation. He focused on such higher mental processes as concept formationand argued that introspection is a valid form for interpreting great variety ofsensations and feelings.
In 1896, John Dewey launched an attack against Titchener and his ideas. Dewey argued that a stimulus and the response it elicits constitute a reflexarc, and that that arc should be the minimal unit of analysis, and its functionshould be the basis for understanding it. Dewey believed that individualsaddress aspects of their environment, not because these features possess thequalities of being interesting, but because they are viewed instrumentally asways of realizing a purpose. This belief gave rise to the theory of "functionalism". Functionalism encouraged developments in mental testing, investigation ofindividual differences and studies of adaptive behavior.
Edward L. Thorndike (1874-1949) disdained what he considered to beintuitive, common sense psychology. He agreed with functionalism, but preferredto be identified as a "connectionist" because he sought toexplain learning in terms of stimulus-response connections. He is credited withestablishing the "Law of Effect" to account for thestrengthening or weakening of connections as a result of experience. In 1914Thorndike completed the three volume series, Educational Psychology. For nearly fifty years the field of Educational Psychology embraced the theoryof associationism without question.
By the mid 1950s cognitive views of learning gained ascendency over thestimulus-response approach. Now questions pertaining to the role of mentalphenomenon in learning and development were resurrected. Thus, with the renewedresearch interest into how individuals acquire, retain, recall and transforminformation, investigations of higher mental processes achieved unprecedentedlevels of sophistication and "the mind is once again at the forefront oftheory and research in contemporary psychology". (Grinder, 1989, p.12)
Grinder, R.E. (1989). Educational Psychology: the master science. InM.C. Wittrock & F. Farley (Eds.), The Future of Educational Psychology (pp.3-18). Hillsdale New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.