5 Insights Into How Psychology Influences Learning (Part 1)


Long gone are the days when education referred to a student’s aptitude for the rote memorization of facts and dates. Today, it has evolved into a more holistic experience, geared toward developing students’ critical-thinking abilities, fostering their problem-solving skills, and raising their self-awareness.

But as a recent report by the Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education suggests, achieving student success in these areas means rethinking the psychology of how students interact with their instructors and class content. Here is an outline of their findings:

Students Aren’t Blank Slates

Classes are all too often structured as if students have zero prior knowledge to build upon.

This isn’t to say that students should already know their subject matter from day one—that would just be a recipe for student boredom and apathy. But students do have plenty of explicit and implicit knowledge about other things, like what qualifies as intelligence, how they personally feel about the subject matter at hand, how they view their own education at large, to name just a few.

Instead of pretending that students check their identities at the classroom door, schools would do better to discuss and then incorporate students’ existing knowledge back into their education.


Psychology divides the motives behind our actions into two broad categories: the things we do as a means to an end, and things that we do because we consider them an end in themselves.

The former type of motivation, or instrumental motivation, is at work behind, say, driving your car because you need to arrive at a destination. The latter type is called intrinsic motivation and is at work when you drive your car just because it’s fun, “with no particular place to go,” as Chuck Berry once said.

So what does this have to do with education? It’s the intrinsic motivation that’s more intense and self-sustaining. Thus, motivating students should address their intrinsic need for fulfillment, and education shouldn’t be billed as a means to something else.

Stay tuned for our next blog about the rest of the CPSE’s report!

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