The study of learning is relatively recent. This post will look at the birth of psychology and how the pioneers of this field laid the foundation for the study of learning.
The first laboratory to focus on the study of psychology was opened by Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) in Germany in 1879. Wundt’s goal was simple, to establish psychology as a legitimate science. At this time, psychology was seen by many as something akin to fortune telling and other black arts.
Wundt’s laboratory quickly became a meeting place for the top minds in this field. He started a journal to report psychological research and encouraged the shift from thinking about psychology ti performing experiments. This shift from rationalism to empiricism was a major change in psychology. Psychological studies were now investigated through controlled stimuli and responses.
Wundt, and his team of researchers investigated the perceptions, feelings, attention, and emotions of people. He was also a mentor to many psychologists who opened laboratories in the United States. Despite all if his pioneering work, Wundt’s laboratory never made any major discoveries in the field of psychology. A sad destiny of many great teachers.
Another major player in the early days of psychology was another German named Hermann Ebbinhaus (1850-1909). Ebbinghaus played an important role in establishing the experimental method. Again this is surprising to us in this day and age but experimenting was not established until work in such fields as psychology.
Ebbinghaus research focused on memory. He believed that learning happens through repeated exposure to whatever a person was trying to learn. He provided data through conducting memory experiments on himself. Naturally, such experiments led to questions of the validity of his studies. Nevertheless, his work was the first to look at memorizing in this way. However, Ebbinghaus results were later justified by the use of experimental methods.
Our understanding of learning today would be stunted if not for the work of these to mentwoTheir major contribution is in establishing experiments as a legitimate way of collecting data in psychology. Today, this is one of the primary vehicles of data collection.
To this day, psychologist study the memory, perceptions, and feeling of individuals in due to the work of these men. Learning would not be defined the way it is if it were not for the work of these German gentlemen from the 19th century.