February 2018 research round-up
Research highlights in learning and education from around the world
The legacy and future of educational psychology
On the 125th anniversary of educational psychology as a discipline, Patricia Alexander looks backwards and forwards to survey the field, which arose in order to bring systematic enquiry to the field of education. Alexander identifies five major themes brought by educational psychology: the “psychologizing” of education, meaning the introduction of scientific evidence to the practice of education; interdisciplinary enquiry; the study of how learning happens; an acknowledgement that individual learners are different; and evidence-based practices, particularly those developed together by school personnel and university researchers.
After covering this rich legacy, Alexander discusses a range of forces that may impact educational psychology in the next 25 years, a dominant theme being the glut of technology and information that will soon be present in the classroom.
Alexander (2018) Past as prologue: Educational psychology’s legacy and progeny. Journal of Educational Psychology 110(2): 147-162 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000200
Providing examples helps students learn effectively and efficiently
Declarative concepts are abstract ideas with short definitions: for example positive reinforcement from the field of psychology, or osmosis in chemistry. Concepts like these are frequently encountered by students, so teachers should be aware of the best way to teach them.
This study compared the effectiveness and efficiency of two methods that used examples as teaching aids: providing the students with examples, or having them generate their own examples. The researchers also tested whether a combination of both approaches might prove more beneficial than either alone.
The study found that providing students with examples was superior to having them generate their own examples, both in terms of long-term retention and learning efficiency. Combining the two approaches was not more effective than using just one approach.
Zamary and Rason (2018) Which technique is most effective for learning declarative concepts – provided examples, generated examples, or both? Educational Psychology Review 30(1):275-301. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-016-9396-9
Is the adolescent brain uniquely vulnerable to today’s media?
Mobile technologies and social media offer effortless access to information and social interaction, but this comes with unintended impacts, like endless distractions and negative emotional effects. Adolescents have particularly malleable brain architectures and are heavy users of social media. What do we know of the consequences?
In this review, three areas of potential impact are covered: social media’s effects on peer acceptance/rejection; how peer interactions through social media can affect one’s self-image; and the interaction between emotions and media use. The authors lament that most studies to date are based on self-reported effects, and have produced mixed results. They call for a more objective approach that involves behavioural observation and neuroimaging, arguing this could help us predict which teens may be negatively versus positively affected by their social media use.
Crone and Konijn (2018) Media use and brain development during adolescence. Nature Communications DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-03126-x
Distinguishing between memories of safe and unsafe
Being unable to distinguish between memories can be a burden for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), who suffer from excessive memory generalization (at least with regard to the traumatic episode they experienced). As a result, they can react inappropriately to everyday situations.
To understand the biology underlying this inappropriate generalisation, McGill University researchers studied contextual fear conditioning in rodents. Using a complementary range of experimental techniques, they found that signalling from the prefrontal cortex to a brainstem region called the periaqueductal gray was responsible for discriminating safe and unsafe situations. The study suggests a pathway to target for amelioration of PTSD.
Rozeske et al. (2018) Prefrontal–Periaqueductal gray-projecting neurons mediate context fear discrimination. Neuron 97(4): 898-910.e6 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2017.12.044