The difference between Psychology and Educational Psychology
Dr Michael Wigelsworth, Senior Lecturer and Programme Director for The University of Manchester’s BSc Educational Psychology course, explains some of the major similarities and differences between Psychology and Educational Psychology at Manchester for those weighing up which course to apply for.
What is Psychology?
Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behaviour. This is obviously a very broad and multifaceted discipline, including many different topics, perspectives, and approaches. Psychology draws from other disciplines such as Philosophy, Neuroscience and Sociology to understand, explain, predict, and ultimately improve the human condition. In England, Psychology is often organised into subject areas, known as domains, in order to help make sense of different topics (table 1).
What is Educational Psychology?
Educational Psychology is the application of Psychology to the context of education. It carries with it the expansive range of ideas and topics and adds a new element – a consideration of their importance and implication for learning and development.
This includes things such as: how children learn and how they are taught; how children make friends (and enemies); how children ultimately thrive (or merely survive) as adults. It is not always purely focused on the child, as Educational Psychology also includes looking at those around a child, such as teachers and parents, as well as systems themselves including the ethos, environment and the purposes of education itself.
Some examples of how different topics in Psychology are used in Educational Psychology (and indeed, inform the topic content for the BSc Educational Psychology) are shown below:
Table 1. A comparison of Psychological topics and application to Educational Psychology
|Psychology topic||Application to Educational Psychology|
Behavioural genetics – can a child help ‘being naughty’ or are they fighting their genetic inheritance?
Neuromyths – Are incorrect assumptions about how the brain works damaging educational approaches?
|Cognitive psychology||How do we process information? How this affect learning, memory, and attention? How does understanding this lead to better approaches to teaching and learning?|
|Developmental psychology||Stages of Development – Do children need radically different approaches to education as they reconfigure their changing views of the world? How do we learn differently as we age? How does this inform life-long learning?|
|Individual differences||How can teachers respond to diversity in the classroom? Are some children so different that they need to be considered as having Special Educational Needs or is this an outdated and discriminatory term? Can we make education more inclusive?|
|Social Psychology||How and where do children learn the concepts of prejudice and discrimination, and what do these look like in the classroom? Why are good relationships important in education?|
Overlapping roles in Psychology
Many courses with Psychology as a major focus (including the BSc Educational Psychology) are accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS). BPS accreditation is not course specific with both Psychology and Educational Psychology having the same accreditation.
This reflects the fact that knowledge and skills gained in either approach is useful across a range of applications, for instance a Clinical Psychologist with an interest in child development, or a school-based Counselling Psychologist. Similarly, career roles as a teacher or counsellor, intervention support worker, educational officer, policy lead, Education Mental Health Practitioner, etc., will all benefit from a degree in Educational Psychology.
Although on an Educational Psychology course there is an emphasis towards implications for teaching, learning and development alongside a closer focus on earlier (rather than later) life experiences, there is a high degree of overlap in topics and methods between Psychology and Educational Psychology. Therefore, a student of Educational Psychology will have the same awareness of major issues and topics in Psychology and will have a focused practice in their application to education. This is directly relevant to many career pathways, and provides a value interdisciplinary perspective to many others.