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Sometimes called educational psychology, this course of study uses research-based findings from psychology and education to solve challenges of teaching, learning and parenting.

Whenever I tell someone I coordinate the online Master’s in Applied Learning program at UCF, the next question is usually: “What does that mean?”

For simplicity, I say “I research and teach the psychology of knowledge.” In other words, I specialize in educational psychology—the study of human motivation, thinking and intelligence, including the best ways to design and enhance learning.

Many people have not heard of “ed psych” or “applied learning,” nor do they realize the importance of the program content to solve issues related to getting kids to study, using teaching methods that promote achievement, or designing learning environments and materials that cultivate peak performance among students, employees and athletes.

It doesn’t matter if you are a corporate leader, parent, teacher, or a student to realize that maximizing the effectiveness of learning is a key factor that determines performance success. If you were a student in the UCF applied learning and Instruction master’s program, you would know how to tackle important issues related to learning and motivation in any context (corporate training, leadership, K-12, community college, advising, instructional design) and would be able to answer questions such as:

The challenges of learning online

Online learning is different from classroom learning because it often lacks tangible structure. It’s different from what some expect in a classroom or training session. Learners need to take more control of their learning and may not be used to the culture of learning independence.  To enhance engagement, a course needs to be easy to navigate, have regular instructor involvement and have relevance to the audience.  When learners value teaching outcomes, their engagement is enhanced, and superior performance follows. We cover this topic in depth in the applied learning course Motivation for Learning & Performance.

How come some people do not value education?

Sometimes we are mandated to learn, other times it is our choice. When we have the autonomy to determine what courses we take, when we take them, and how our success is determined (including assessments), we are much more likely to be interested in taking the course. In addition, any content that is taught needs to be important for future success. After all what’s the point in learning something you can’t use?  Good instruction (and good degree programs) teaches you HOW to make instructional content relevant, even for the most unlikely topics. Another reason that students in the applied learning program excel is because in many courses they can choose how their success will be measured by designing their projects based on what interests them (and not on instructor requirements).

Is it possible to increase one’s IQ?

Parents and students often want academic excellence and being “smart” helps. IQ is a tough topic to master because it’s hard to measure. However, there are fundamental tasks that can keep us sharp as we age and ways to get smarter (as measured by a standard IQ test). One key is having the desire to master a topic along with the willingness to practice over time. Some of us make the mistake of cramming for a test, thinking the strategy will optimize performance. In the long run, we just forget quicker when we cram.  So yes, you can enhance IQ (once you know what that is) and there are specific activities that we recommend to retain your competitive edge as you age. These topics are covered in the applied learning course called human intelligence.

How do our views influence our decisions?

No matter where you look today you often read about individuals making incredibly risky or biased decisions. We sometimes scratch our heads and wonder why anyone would think or behave in unusual ways. Understanding others means knowing their beliefs or what educational psychologists call “worldviews.” Not all worldviews are based on reality and often embrace concepts from fake news or conspiracy theories. In addition, we tend to only look for evidence that supports our goals and intentions, while ignoring counterevidence. Thus, to understand others, we have to study a litany of cognitive biases that people embrace, a topic that is covered in depth in the applied learning course called “Seminar in Applied Learning.”

If we make learning fun, don’t people learn more?

Probably one of the greatest misconceptions related to learning and teaching is that during the process of learning we should entertain the audience and let them leave with the impression that they had a great time. Unfortunately, when it comes to the design of instructional materials, fun does not always equate with learning. Yes, we want learners to be engaged with the content, but sometimes too much fun detracts from learning. In the applied learning program course in the instructional design specialization (one of five available specialization tracks) we devote lots of content to show how to create and maintain the delicate balance between teaching that engages learners and instruction that also focuses on how to make the knowledge “stick” with the learner.

If you have interest in any of these topics described or anything related to the application of psychology for the optimal design of instruction, learning contexts, or learning materials then the master’s degree in applied learning could be the ideal program for you. Find out more about our online Master’s in Applied Learning program today.

About the Author

Bobby Hoffman, PhD
Dr. Bobby Hoffman

Dr. Bobby Hoffman is an Associate Professor at the University of Central Florida (UCF), Coordinator of the UCF Applied Learning MA degree program, and a Psychology Today columnist. He is an internationally known researcher in motivational science. He literally wrote the book on Motivation for Learning and Performance for his students and colleagues, a title which in 2015 earned the #1 new book in Cognitive Psychology designation according to When not hacking motivation, he can be found riding his bicycle, studying Italian, or roaming the streets of Europe looking for motivated adventure.