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Psychology Critical Thinking

Where Psychology is Heading in the 21st Century

Ever since the winged god of love, Cupid, stole a kiss from the mortal beauty, Psyche, civilization has been fascinated with the enigma of this butterfly, the human soul. The heroine of the ancient myth risked her matrimonial bliss to find out the truth about her lover and see him, if only just once. In the search for the higher truth, humanity is ready to forsake the safety of the religious haven and dive into the depths of profoundly unsettling investigation of what we as human beings essentially are, how we think and feel, what moves us and what makes us human in the first place. This subject is being contested for by many disciplines including philosophy, history, sociology, religious and literary studies. But psychology has probably come closest to the mesmerizing abyss of the human psyche. Inevitably, when you look into a precipice it looks back into you. And this is one of the challenges that psychology is facing today – avoiding staring into the precipice for too long, turning away from the “art for art’s sake” research, staying alert and intact, being open to the mounting needs of the modernity.

So, where should psychology be heading in the 21st century? It is always hard to cast away Hamletian doubts, as they are an inherent part of being human. But it is quite possible to outline the path which requires our special attention at this very moment. Counterintuitively, this is educational psychology. New technologies are changing the world at an astonishing speed, but many dilemmas stay with us – war, hunger, abuse of power, inequality. If there is one magic bullet that can help deal with this civilizational oxymoron, it is education. The role of psychology as a discipline that has come closest to understanding the foundations of human thinking and interaction is to facilitate the process of educating others and being educated so that the best results can be achieved. The educational system in far too many countries has not been modified since the 19th century. But we have gone such a long way from the metropolitan empires, elitism, and sanctimony of that epoch that cardinal re-thinking of the whole educational paradigm is required. And if the aim of this new paradigm is to educate the citizens of Shakespeare’s “brave new world” and not the “brave new world” envisioned by Huxley, then psychology should be the ultimate guide in this process. Psychologists can help the system of education cease being a machine producing gear-wheels for other machines when it was meant to be molding engineers who would design these machines, modernize and optimize them.

In this context, one crucial challenge is to be answered. It is the necessity to keep pace with the rapid development of the technology. Ability to browse the Internet has become our new literacy. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are a game-changing strategy that can help people from all social strata to get access to exclusive educational resources. Learners from all over the world can listen to lectures from the best specialists in the field and exchange their ideas with a huge international community of their fellow students. Any question can be answered within minutes. Now they do not have to wait for feedback for days on end, as in most cases it is a matter of seconds. Moreover, with the introduction of special electronic badges, diplomas might soon not be obligatory anymore. All these innovations are incredibly inspiring and they are being implemented right before our eyes – in MIT, Harvard, and other universities. But, unfortunately, in many cases, students and, most significantly, professors are not ready to accept and embrace this change. If lectures can be recorded and distributed online, then what is to be done in the classroom? The answer that psychologists can give is to create a blended “online + face-to-face” system and flip the classroom: learn at home and discuss the material together. Educators will have to be taught to turn lecturing into coaching with more focus on the individual needs of every student. Educational institutions will be modeled upon the Renaissance studios with teachers playing the role of “masters” educating their “apprentices” through practice and close connection with the world outside, working with true-life materials, problems and solutions. Thus, while online learning is also called distance learning, it will paradoxically bring students and teachers into a closer contact. This will mean, of course, an urgent need for psychologists to help improve methods of instruction and reform PhD programs. But the question here is not “whether”, it is ”when”.

It may seem that such changes should not affect schools. Online learning is a taboo when the conversation drifts to schools. Surely, left to their own devices, children will choose play over study. But this is precisely the challenge we can turn into an opportunity to make learning at school proactive. The key strategy here can be borrowed from the IT industry – it is gamification. The 21st century is the century of Huizinga’s Homo Ludens. If children are so much enthralled by all the gadgets they use around-the-clock, then why not employ these games, Facebook accounts, viral YouTube videos and Instagram photos to educate them and let them be creative when doing their homework – in a Montessori way of being creatively independent and independently creative. At the same time, flipping the classroom will mean that at school children will have to be more proactive and prosocial. This is where psychology plays a crucial role. One of the things that can be done is empowering children through role-playing using classical literature. Amazing projects are initiated around the world. One of them is “Creative Shakespeare” from the Globe Education. Within the framework of “Creative Shakespeare”, educators work together with directors, actors, and psychologists to make Shakespeare practical. Students do not just read, they rather act, move, dance, and tell stories. They work with archetypes and within one hour everyone can become a sovereign, a warrior, a carer, and a trickster. It is a profound empowering experience that affects even those students who greatly disliked reading before the course. This is what students need to kindle their intrinsic motivation – play, fun, empowerment.

To achieve this, a comprehensive, synergetic approach is required, an approach that will work on both internal and external levels unifying psychological disciplines and other humanities. But the 21st century was rightfully called “the century of psychology”, and I believe that as a “science in action” psychology can surely find its way.

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