Educational psychology is the study of human learning that encompasses the studying of instructional processes. It relies on majorly on testing, measurement, assessment, training as well as evaluation so as to enable the enhancement of educational activities and other learning processes. As an applied field, educational psychology has continued to grapple with and struggle to define and fulfill its mission against the backdrop of an increasingly dynamic world. This paper seeks to analyze the perspectives as offered by the author on the status and future directions of educational psychology as an applied field. Whilst doing this analysis and reflection on the status and future directions for this field, we examine the perspectives offered by Alexander in her article: Envisioning the possibilities for educational psychology in the Educational Psychologist. It is noteworthy that the paper was published in the year 2004, nearly a decade ago, and it was written in a futuristic manner. We seek to reflect on the various perspectives as offered by Alexander on the central challenges she had identified in the article back then and assess their continued relevance today, if any. Finally, we explore the progress that has been made to this end since the publication of the paper, till the present.
It must be stated that Alexander gives a caution in her article that her views as expressed are no more than speculations, though reasonable. She offers her views on the likely status and future direction of the educational psychology as a field by the year 2020, not based on any empirical evidence as is usually the case but upon the trends in the past. She argues that, by the year 2020, a new generation of scholars will have taken place at the helm and that their efforts to align research and their teaching to the realities of the 21st century will indubitably shape the next persona. At the time that she was writing, Alexander posed that the field of educational psychology was in the midst of another period of redefinition and regeneration. We argue that it still is. In her conduct of the leap into the future for the field, Alexander offered four trends that she identified as influencing the nature of learning and teaching that takes place. The four trends that she proffers include information as a commodity, an orientation toward the here and now, the growing viability of virtual experiences as against actual experiences and an aging and increasingly diverse population. She adds that these trends do not occur in isolation but are interconnected thereby increasing the chances of the trend shaping not only the current generations, but also future generations. With regard to the first trend of information as a commodity, Alexander argues that a dramatic change has occurred within the past generation and that, in the first time, in history, information has become valued though an unnatural commodity. She compared the generation of information to mining of natural resources and states that only very few of the population have the experience of generating information. This large segment of the population is rather content with consumption of the generated information, of which they are not aware of its originality or reliability. This generation of information users or consumers, as opposed to generators or information seekers treats information as a commodity to be consumed and has both negative as well as positive ramifications.
Alexander considers this theoretical perspective of treating information as a commodity as inimical to learning and teaching since learners view information as any other commodity to be traded and attach little value to principled knowing. It may thus happen that the pursuit of knowledge as a social enhancing process is lost on such learners. True to her assertions, much is lost when learners no longer envision the beauty that comes with the pursuit of principled and meaningful understanding. This perspective has huge ramifications for teaching and learning as learners are inundated with information within their learning environment. Owing to the huge flow of information, the learners are unable to appreciate the relevant and the irrelevant or the important as against trivial matters. This situation is harmful to the learners as such a deluge of information poses a challenge to both learners and teachers forcing teachers to only mention the concepts in passing. On the other hand, learners rush through the concepts so as to attain the required grade without getting engrossed in the meaningful and challenging task of understanding. The upshot of this perspective is that learners and teachers alike drown in the informational crush, which causes students to become resistant to the teaching that they receive as well as to information onslaught. Teachers thereby find themselves in a difficult position where they have to struggle to break the veil of resistance where only a few may manage.
The second perspective or trend as offered by the author is that of the orientation toward the here and now which I must admit, is indeed trendy and common. According to the author, there is a tendency to be obsessed with speed more so in this technological age where faster and better are exhorted for the sake of expediency. It is now uncommon for people and learners alike to wait for days or months so as to obtain information as long ago before the advent of technology where one can download information in record time. Indeed, sight is lost on the possible inaccuracies that may attend this instantaneous transmission of information. More importantly, the increasing rapidity of information has been accompanied by a reduction in attention span with the shelf life of information decaying at an alarming rate. The effect of this is those learners operate on a click and dump mentality where they only retain school content that is to be put into immediate use. This content is usually dumped into the trash whenever the purpose is served, usually passing a test or examination as they are no longer keen on being burdened mentally by retention of such knowledge. I have experienced this form of learning myself, a phenomenon I would conveniently call, “displacement reading, as opposed to constructivist reading”.
With regard to the growing acceptance of the virtual experiences as opposed to actual experiences, Alexander describes the apparent move by scholars in the field of enabling and supporting virtual learning and teaching without giving due regard to the potential effects. It is clear that focus had neither been given to how, where and when such virtual learning should occur nor whether online chats for learners touted as learning is healthy for students. She argues that the rise of technology has stripped the educational psychology as a field, of its ability to give answers to the enumerated thought provoking questions.
In relation to the fourth trend of an aging and diverse population, the author argues that, in a post-industrial society, life expectancy of individuals has gone up owing to improved medical care and living conditions. Consequently, people are expected to live longer than it was, and more children are being born than was the case before, owing to advances in medical science. The effect of this development is that there are more students or learners in the classroom that presents a challenge. It is now common to see overcrowded classrooms that prove a challenge to teachers who are ill-equipped to handle them. More so, with more students comes more variability not only with respect to cognitive differences but also other aspects of human variability such as emotional and cultural factors. The author predicted that there will be a new partnership between educational psychology and educational practice that will prove mutually beneficial. She thus predicts that the educational psychology will experience an unprecedented change in its sphere of educational experience that expands both into the realm of classroom practice and outwards. She argued that the educational psychology will become more universal and less parochial. She concludes by stating that educational psychologists must come down to philosophy if advances in the field are to be made.
In conclusion, we state that the issues canvassed by the author with reference to the trends or challenges faced by educational psychology when viewed in the various perspectives are of continued relevance in the contemporary society. Nearly a decade has passed since the author made predictions into the future. The issue of increasingly aged and diverse population, an orientation towards here and now and the reliance on virtual learning and the treatment of information as a commodity have never been truer than now.
It is true that the educational psychology field has experienced numerous changes and transformation. From where I sit, I fully associate myself with the sentiments of the author, Alexander, in her article with reference to the evolving nature of the field of educational psychology and the various perspectives she has offered. In my personal capacity, I agree with the author when she states that information is nowadays treated as a commodity in trade thereby causing learners to attach little value to it. It is, therefore, likely the case that whenever learners are inundated with information, they are unable to sieve the relevant from the trifling thus losing out on the purpose of such information. Further, I agree that learners and teachers alike in this technological era sacrifice speed and convenience at the altar of accuracy. As such, several inaccuracies are propagated through instant downloads that are rarely noticed. In the same manner, learners now adopt a similar dump and click mentality which causes them to displace what they have read from their mind so as to give room for new information. This trend causes learners to fail to appreciate the former concepts as they only conduct rote learning aimed at passing examinations and no more.