18 Reasons We Need More Psychology (And Less Logic) In Our Education Thinking

Few systems are as complex as education.

I’ve been thinking a lot about education lately, I’m in the school change business, especially as it relates to creating schools that work for all children. Over the last years, my work has focused on designing schools that work for all students, programs for hard to teach students, and on technology-rich learning environments, especially 1to1 learning with laptop and ipad initiatives (these all usually overlap considerably when each is done well). And I especially wonder how it is that competent educators (good people) make decisions and policies that seem to not work very well.

From my perspective, a decision or policy works if it supports the working of the system. You can tell if it doesn’t work if the system is still upset or in some level of tourmoil.

I’m not sure I can explain this like I want to, but I guess I should say here that when I say “system,” I don’t mean the “education system” or “school system” (the policies that govern a district, school, classroom or other jurisdiction), but rather the system of learning. By my definition, if kids generally do their work, follow the rules, learn, and are engaged, then the system “works.” If kids are breaking rules, not learning, refusing to do their work, then the system doesn’t work. If a school has a high breakage rate on devices or they go missing, the the system isn’t working. When breakage and missing rates are negligible, then the system works.

So why do seemingly good policies not work?

I’ve come to the conclusion that problem lies with logic.

Good people use logic to make decisions. But education is a complex system based on people, not things. Therefore, we need to use psychology, not logic. By definition, logic makes sense in systems that focus on things or stuff. But it is psychology that makes sense in people systems.

So, from two decades of working with schools, including my own, around customized learning, or student motivation, or technology-rich learning environments, or leadership for school change (or, more often, all of these combined!), I’ve started to discern some of the “Logic vs. Psychology” problems schools have. In each case, the “logical” solution is certainly logical, but seems to have perpetuated (or even exasperated) the kinds of disruption or disequilibrium that the solution was trying to solve (it “didn’t work”), whereas the “psychological” solution seems to have had the desired effect.

So here are 18 reasons we should use more psychology and less logic:

  1. Logic says 1to1 is a technology initiative. Psychology says it is a learning initiative.
  2. Logic says students should learn (it is for their own good). Psychology says we must ask ourselves why students would want to learn.
  3. Logic says do workshops on how to use the various software on the laptops. Psychology says do workshops on how the software can be used to help students learn academic content.
  4. Logic says that a teacher must cover content. Psychology says that a teacher must connect with students personally.
  5. Logic says schools should ban disruptive technology (cell phones, mp3 players, blogs, chat, social networks, etc.). Psychology says if a tool is part of the child’s culture, then we should find academic uses for it.
  6. Logic says filter the Internet heavily. Psychology says filter some, but mostly educate students.
  7. Logic says use technology to do what teachers have always done, but more effectively. Psychology says use technology in new ways to engage students and help them learn.
  8. Logic says supplying the tools is enough. Psychology says apply some positive pressure and support to get teachers to use the technology effectively for academic purposes.
  9. Logic says breakage and theft is about the technology and the kids. Psychology says breakage and theft is about how the technology is being used for academics and the leadership around the technology initiative.
  10. Logic says tech folks need to protect the stuff. Psychology says tech folks need to enable engagement and the learning.
  11. Logic says a school is doing well if the easy to teach students are doing well. Psychology says that a school is doing well if the hard to teach students are doing well.
  12. Logic says give students information. Psychology says help students make meaning of information.
  13. Logic asks, did the teacher cover the material? Psychology asks, did the students learn it?
  14. Logic says that technology is a separate line item. Psychology says that all the expenses related to technology are integrated throughout the budget (infrastructure, instruction, staff, etc.).
  15. Logic asks, how smart are you? Psychology asks, how are you smart?
  16. Logic says teachers should speak to students with authority. Psychology says teachers should speak to students as people.
  17. Logic says a teacher can select which teaching styles they choose to employ. Psychology says that there are high-impact and low-impact pedagogies, and teachers should choose wisely.
  18. Logic says pass out laptops to teachers as soon as the school gets them. Psychology says pass out the laptops at an inservice where school leaders can set the tone on how they will be used in the classroom.

Let’s try to use a little less logic and a little more psychology.


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