Social and Psychological Foundations to Education


Social and Psych FoundationsThe historical foundations of curriculum also contribute to education. In the early development of American higher education, the main purpose of curriculum was “directed toward the acculturating of young people -their character formation, preparation for careers, access to society, language and manners” (Cohen & Kisker, 2010, p 32). In modern day, the purpose of curriculum has altered. Today, “curriculum enables people to make sense of their lives and the world around them. Individuals use curriculum with varying degrees of intentionality to interpret events, to deepen their understanding of what they learn and who they are as learners, and to create a shared experience for teaching and learning” (Huggett, Smith & Conrad, 2010, p 1).

Psychological Foundations

The psychological foundations also play an essential role in the development of curriculum in education. It answers the question of “how people learn” and encourages “curriculum specialists to ask how psychology can contribute to the design and delivery of curriculum” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009, p. 107). Psychology helps educators understand the processes within both teaching and learning.

Learning within the psychological foundations has been divided into three different areas.  These theories of learning are behavorist, cognitivist and humanistic. Behaviorism bases its theory on the works of Aristotle and Rousseau. The classical conditioning of behaviorism uses both a stimulus and a response. Thorndike refers to this as a habit formation (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009).

Cognitive psychology “is the branch of psychology that studies mental processes including how people think, perceive, remember and learn” (Cherry, 2012, para. 1). It focuses on how people get information, use and store it. These psychologists are specifically interested in how people develop structures for knowledge as they apply problem solving skills.

Lastly, within the psychological foundations is the humanist theory. Humanists strive to develop the whole individual as they concentrate on the self-actualization of the whole child. They concentrate education around experiences. Within this theory, teachers do not lecture or demonstrate the role of a superior entity but rather are more as guides for students through the process of self-direction (Long, 2012).

Social Foundations

Social aspects also make a significant contribution to education. A school community is a reflection of the larger community in which they are housed. Education “is processed through ceremonies, rituals, stories, observation and emulation of older children and adults, and strictly enforced codes of conduct and behavior” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009, p. 150). Additionally, the school educates the young into demonstrating the attitudes, mores and values of society.

A philosophical approach is a necessity within the educational realm as an educator especially when based experientially (Roberts, 2006). Experiential learning helps “learners demonstrate a greater awareness of their responsibility in making learning meaningful and monitoring themselves. They are curious and willing to try new things, view problems as challenges, desire change, and enjoy learning. They are also found to be motivated and persistent, independent, self-disciplined, self-confident and goal-oriented” (Abdullah, 2012).


Abdullah, M. (2012). Self directed learning. Retrieved  from

Cherry, K. (2012). What is cognitive psychology? Retrieved from

Cohen, A. & Kisker, C. (2010). The shaping of American higher education: Emergence and growth of the contemporary system. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Huggett, K., Smith, N., & Conrad, C. (2012). Higher education curriculum: traditional and contemporary perspectives. Retrieved from

Long, H.B. (2012). From behaviorism to humanism. Retrieved from

Ornstein, A. C. (1990). Philosophy as a basis for curriculum decisions. Retrieved from

Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P.   (2009).  Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues. Allyn & Bacon.

Roberts, T. (2006).  A philosophical examination of experiential learning theory for agricultural educators. Journal of Agricultural Education, 47(1), 17-29.


By Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, a master’s in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. She has published several titles, including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the mid-west with her husband. She loved storytelling and sharing her stories with her children. As they grew, she started writing her stories down for them. She is a teacher, having taught from elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, masters in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. Her husband, Kerry and Tracy breed miniature dachshunds and love to spend time with their growing family. She has published several books including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel's 8 and Securing Your Tent.

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