Links of psychological literacy

The reviewer explains how the anticipated student learning outcome is an important factor for the foundation of a well-rounded psychological curricular

By Thomas F. Cloonan, PhD

"The Psychologically Literate Citizen: Foundations and Global Perspectives"
Edited by Jacquelyn Cranney and Dana S. Dunn
Oxford University Press, 2011, 357 pages
ISBN: 978-0-19-979494-2

We now have a manual that brings to psychology the notion of "psychological literacy." It addresses departmental and curricular planning for enabling students to learn the lifeworld relevancies of psychology. In Chapter 14 of Cranney and Dunn's book, Annie Trapp and Jacqueline Akhurst refer to the term's formal definition:

The term resonates with two criteria in McGovern and colleagues' (2010) definition of psychological literacy, namely "Applying psychological principles to personal, social, and organizational issues in work, relationships, and the broader community" (p. 11) and "Being insightful and reflective about one's own and others' behavior and mental processes" (p. 11). (p. 191)

The 23 chapters of this book examine different dimensions of psychological literacy. The book's exposition on psychological literacy moves the topic up from individual classroom efforts by teachers to a profession-wide explication and application of psychology's relevance to undergraduate students' lifeworlds. The introductory course is the first place for promotion of psychological literacy.

In educational language, the authors view psychological literacy as an anticipated student learning outcome (SLO) in undergraduate education. "SLOs are concrete statements that indicate what students will know or be able to demonstrate once they have completed an activity, a course, or a major . . ." (p. 17). "Know" or "demonstrate" for psychological literacy is with respect to the transfer of psychological findings, theories and principles to the lifeworld.

Institutional and departmental planning is necessary for the accomplishment of psychological literacy in students. It is top-down in character. Equally necessary is the bottom-up involvement of students. In Chapter 11, Jacquelyn Cranney and colleagues (11 of them) refer to a priority of student-initiative in the development of SLOs for the psychological literacy of students. "Emphasis is on student-centered, active L&T [learning and teaching] strategies, with progressive development of SLOs and 'real-life' connections being made wherever possible" (p. 148). Student-centered learning is bottom-up engagement of psychological literacy.

The book is primarily directed to educators. Masterfully, it illuminates the top-down development of psychological literacy; that is, the articulation of SLOs, departmental planning, and curricular re-orientations. An elaboration of the bottom-up dimension of student-centered learning would be an excellent companion to this book. I have in mind as focus for such an approach the work of Carl Rogers (1969) on student-centered learning. It remains as radical in 2012 as it was in the year of its original publication. It involves individual contracts drawn up by student and instructor tailoring the course's objectives to individual student lifeworld relevancies within the context of the course's catalogue description.

No review can do this book the justice it deserves. There is so much more within it to discuss. Some of the presented concepts worthy of extended discussion are the global citizen (pp. 96-99), ethical literacy (pp. 41-55), online asynchronous discussion groups (100-101), and the behavior modification example of "applied approach" to teaching psychological literacy (pp. 149-150). The book is "long time coming." Teachers of psychology will find it particularly interesting.


McGovern, T. V., Corey, L. A., Cranney, J., Dixon, Jr., W. E., Holmes, J. D., Kuebli, J. E., Ritchey, K., Smith, R. A., & Walker, S. (2010). Psychologically literate citizens. In D. Halpern (Ed.), Undergraduate education in psychology: Blueprint for the discipline's future (pp. 9-27). Washington, D C: American Psychological Association.

Rogers, C. R. (1969). Freedom to learn. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill.