Human Development & Learning emphasis

The PhD program in Educational Psychology with an emphasis in Human Development and Learning (HDL) trains students in developmental science with a focus on applied research in real-world settings. Developmental science is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry that investigates how people change over time in response to, and in relationship with, their biology, their environments, and the broader social systems that shape their lives.

The other area of emphasis for the PhD in Educational Psychology is Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics & Assessment (MESA).

Academic Themes & Perspectives

The HDL faculty draw upon perspectives from the disciplines of biology, psychology, sociology, gerontology, anthropology, human development and family science, and education to answer compelling research questions that are of importance to contemporary society. (For a detailed description of faculty research interests and current projects, please see the HDL Faculty page.) As a community of scholars, the following themes and perspectives cut across our work:

  • Lifespan development: We understand human development to be a lifelong process and therefore conduct research with people from across the developmental spectrum, including early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, emerging/young adulthood, middle adulthood, older adulthood, and elderhood.
  • Families, communities, and systems: We address human development at multiple, dynamically interacting levels, including individuals, families, and communities, as well as the broader social contexts that frame their development. We examine how systems impact developmental outcomes and trajectories for individuals, families, and communities, and how individuals, families, and communities, in turn, shape the systems they are embedded within.
  • Social justice, equity, and intersectionality: We take up important questions regarding the impact of power, privilege, and oppression on human development. Our faculty work with a variety of people and communities, and are currently engaged with immigrant-origin youth, LGBTQIA+ adults, and Black, Latinx and Asian children, adolescents and families, among others. When working with these diverse communities, we embrace that they bring with them their own priorities, epistemologies, and philosophies, and build programs of research that are culturally responsive and sustaining. We harness the potential of research for  promoting social justice, equity, and well-being for all.
  • Strengths-based frameworks: We adopt a range of strengths-based perspectives (e.g., positive youth development, adversarial growth) in our research to challenge the pervasive deficit-oriented frameworks that have historically shaped the study of human development.
  • Multiple-methods approach: We understand that capturing the complexity of human development requires the synergistic and innovative use of a variety of research methods and analytical paradigms. Our faculty specialize in multiple quantitative and qualitative modes of inquiry, including questionnaires, interviews, large-scale surveys, identity mapping, life stories and oral histories, observational methods, photo-elicitation, archival analysis, ethnography, and more. We value methods that transform and create change through the research process, including community-engaged work and participatory action research.

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