Tim Murphey, Kanda University of International Studies, Japan
Curtis Edlin, Kanda University of International Studies, Japan
Murphey, T. & Edlin, C. (2020). The EcoEducational-BioPsychoSocial model in everyday education: A suggestion for researching holistic well-being as a contribution to healthier learner autonomy. Relay Journal, 3(1), 110-121. https://doi.org/10.37237/relay/030109
*This page reflects the original version of this document. Please see PDF for most recent and updated version.
In this short article, we propose that education could benefit greatly if students and teachers were tuned into the biopsychosocial parts of our holistic well-being, which is considered to be autonomy supportive, as a prerequisite of learning. Thus far, education has largely operated on a bias toward cognitive processes as the sole meaningful contributor to learning, focusing on the acquisition of knowledge while often seeing the biological, psychological, and social contextual contributions as unrelated. With the recent generation of positive psychology and positive sociology, researchers and educators alike are becoming more aware of the contribution that contextual well-being (i.e. considering biopsychosocial factors) has upon learning. This growing awareness suggests the need to broaden rather than narrow our understandings of causality both in the classroom and with learning at large. We propose that showing attention to this wider context could improve student learning substantially and support student development of a more sustainable autonomy.
Keywords: educational ecologies, biopsychosocial model, well-being, positive psychology and sociology
There are times in our classrooms when students’ behavior-learning connections should not be ignored. Examples might include when our students are nodding off in otherwise interesting classes, when they are running constantly to the bathroom, when they continually sit in the back as far away from others as possible, when they chronically come late and dart off quickly at the bell. These students may be suffering from biopsychosocial problems that are disturbing and limiting their educational endeavors. This is natural as students live the vast majority of their lives away from our classrooms and yet are still bringing the rest of their worlds to class with them through their biologies, psychologies, and sociologies. In this article we propose that showing at least a modicum of attention to this wider context could improve student learning substantially.
The BioPsychoSocial Model
We both independently first read about the biopsychosocial model in Deci & Flaste (1995, pp. 170-173) in late 2019. Tim then further educated himself with several articles which describe and expand on the ideas (Borell-Carrió, 2004; Reisinger, 2014), while Curtis read and considered further about its relation to performance (Cotterill, 2017). Although Tim had heard from a variety of sources over the years that “everything is connected,” such as in some highly recommended TED talks by Tom Chi (TED, 2016) and Robert Sapolsky (2017) and from his father when he was a teenager, he was not aware that the medical field in particular had had a hard time breaking away from what was known as the biomedical model, in which medical doctors mainly looked at health only in terms of the physical body and ignored other possible psychological and social influences. Engel and colleagues produced a more expansive positive model called the biopsychosocial model (Engel, 1977). There have been several articles on its application to special needs education (Reisinger, 2014), but there is little about its application toward education at large, which could also align positive psychology and sociology with our learning goals. We would like to begin taking this next step in this article.
One vastly influential connective scheme from the 20th century was Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1943). While the bottom two layers of the hierarchy are mostly biological and understood to underpin the upper layers, those upper layers have mostly to do with our psychologies and socialization (see Figure 1). All layers are likely to affect each other and may be pre- and corequisites of effective learning.
Figure 1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
There may be certain moments in one’s life when we might observe things as more obviously connected to each other, that in fact these different elements of our lives cannot really exist without each other. To some, it may sound ludicrous to separate them. However, in much of science, medicine, business, and education, we often try to isolate the variables of phenomena in order to try to understand those variables more concretely, which makes learning them simpler. While this might work sometimes in pure sciences, such as chemistry, in other domains, the systems and variables that influence and affect a variable can be inextricable from each other and thus disallow us to truly isolate that variable. When we still approach our knowledge and answers through that isolation, our solutions may in fact suffer from that very isolation, not properly accounting for other related and causal factors. The scientific method seeks to isolate and purify a causal event. In our modern world though, we are finding that nearly everything is connected to and influencing everything else, and a great deal needs greater contextualization, perhaps in a dynamic systems way of thinking (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008).
Many medical practitioners have long known these ideas, and while they seek to be specialists in one or two domains, they are in today’s world tasked with continual learning from neighboring fields. Psychologists no longer just study psychology, but rather social-psychology, clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, evolutionary psychology, forensic psychology, health psychology, neuro-psychology, educational psychology, and occupational psychology (to name just a few). However, these subfields are reductionist, i.e., looking more narrowly at particular kinds of psychology, not seeking to expand but rather to reduce the scope of the fields in order to make them more understandable for specific needs. This sort of reductionism is often apparent in teaching within subject domains as well. Engel’s critique of biomedicine (as reductionist) is summarized in Figure 2 below (from Borrell- Carrió, Suchman & Epstein, 2004). Carl Jung (1957) offers another example (see Appendix A).
Figure 2. Engel’s Critique of Biomedicine
Parallels in teaching
We are in no way suggesting that teachers in the classroom are doctors nor that we are treating medical problems. However, we think that teachers will recognize that their students are also situated partially in parallel with the descriptions above, in that all students learn somewhat differently from each other and when afforded one-to-one counseling or advising directed toward individual situations, they seem to blossom and thrive. This is certainly also one of the powerful soothing effects of schools opening self-access centers that offer one-to-one advising (Mynard, 2019), which may derive from the idea that advising is autonomy-supportive and thus engenders more energy, vitality, and health (Ryan & Deci, 2008). We hope that good friends and teachers have good “bedside manners” that show respect and helpfulness and engage students for better well-being, which we predict will be followed by more successful, autonomy-supportive education.
In the Classroom: Broadening What We See; Start Small
As mentioned above, there are times when behavior-learning connections cannot be ignored and for which a simple or narrow explanation may not suffice. A simple explanation may not be enough for us to understand what is happening and interact in a way that is optimally beneficial and autonomy-supportive for our students. A student who is falling asleep in class may have a psychological media addiction to computer games and be playing all night, possibly be working at part-time jobs until 2 a.m. each night to pay for student loans, or be living alone for the first time and just not regulating herself well. An overly narrow view (that the student just needs to exert more effort) with an overly narrow solution (simply admonishing such a student to “pay attention” as if it is a simple issue of straightforward effort regulation) is not likely to help address the root problem and may in fact become a further wedge between herself and the class, including at a motivational level. The implication that her difficulty is a mere, simple lack of effort regulation can elicit a perception of failure and a discrepancy between who she is and who she feels she, herself wants to be or ought to be; or between who she is and who others want her to be or think she ought to be. Some negative potentials of such various discrepancies are feelings of low self-efficacy, shame or embarrassment, guilt, and anxiety, to name a few (Higgins, 1987). Along with a feeling of low self-efficacy, this perception of failure can also trigger a potential negative shift in the boundary between perceiving these discrepancies as challenges or threats (Cotterill, 2017).
The opposite of narrowing is expanding, which Grinker (1964) proposed as eclecticism and which Engel expanded on later with the biopsychosocial model, suggesting it replace the old biomedical model that ignored the parts played by our minds and societies. The biopsychosocial model has of course also been criticized as too eclectic, i.e., “anything goes” and thus sometimes “unscientific,” as humanism currently tends to be. While it has been applied to special educational needs (Reisinger, 2014), it has not been widely applied to general education. Our contention is that it should be applied to everyday education, just as civility (Porath, 2016).
In the field of educational linguistics, we often unnaturally treat grammar, vocabulary, spelling, writing, and speaking as separate and distinct. While we can learn them in this way for a short time, sooner or later we are using them all together in a blend that we call communicative second language acquisition. This is similar to how medical scientists have long separated and specialized on parts of our bodies in hopes of better understanding them. While this intense specialization in a variety of fields has indeed rewarded us with great knowledge, its overemphasis can also make us blind to other contributing factors to health and successful practice at times, across any number of domains. With a broader understanding of contributors of illnesses, we might improve our control over illnesses and create better experienced longevity. One recent addition to this area is the book by Hoshi and Kodama (2018), in which various studies have been correlated to show how environmental, psychological, and social well-being (among other factors) contribute to a healthy longevity (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. The Structure of Healthy Life Determinants, adapted from Hoshi & Kodama (2018)
Similarly, if we can take a broader understanding of the environmental contributors to language learning and how they are situated in student lives, perhaps we can approach pedagogy in a way that is more effective in supporting both sustained learning and supporting its integration as part of a biopsychosocially healthy life.
Application in a sample activity
What we wish to propose here is construction of an ecological educational model that looks more closely at the attributes of the biopsychosocial model and combines them into an eco-educational biopsychosocial model for teachers. One practical way to apply these ideas is by simply asking our students to discuss them. Tim has experimented with this in the initial five minutes in every classroom with his students’ action logs, which are similar to classroom diaries (Hooper & Murphey, in progress; Miyake-Warkentin, Hooper & Murphey, in progress; Murphey, 1993). He asks students to share action logs that they have written and check in with each other that they are okay, that is to say sufficiently healthy and eager to learn. He often asks them to ask each other about their bio-conditions (e.g., “How much sleep did you get last night?” “Did you have a good breakfast or lunch?” see Appendix B). He wishes to expand this focus in the upcoming semester when students do action log shares. He is going to ask that they add in the data about themselves in form depicted in Figure 4 and talk things over with their partners. He hopes that this will help them to tune into their biopsychosocial prerequisites as a base for learning as well as give him valuable information about the students’ lives.
Figure 4. Student Self-Assessment of BioPsychoSocial Well-Being and Readiness to Learn
Invitations to use activities, do research, and make the world a better place
If interested in borrowing and adapting the activity and process described above for classes or as research, we invite readers to do so. While we think action logging would be an appropriate way for students to engage with the ideas of holistic well-being and the BioPsychoSocial model, please feel free to engage with the ideas in ways that are ecologically fitting for you and your students (and any research constraints). For example, some of you may just try the simple questionnaire at the beginning, middle, and end of term, rather than try it daily in class. For further discussion on the EcoEducational-BioPsychoSocial Model, contact Tim or Curtis, the authors of this article.
Applications and outcomes
We hope to show in future research and articles that by becoming more attuned to contributing influences (BioPsychoSocial) upon growth, well-being, and learning that we can help students deal with those influences and create better learning environments for everyone.
Notes on the contributors
Tim Murphey is a visiting professor at Kanda University’s Research Institute of Learner Autonomy Education (RILAE). He also teaches at Wayo Women’s University Graduate School of Human Ecology, Aoyama University, and Nagoya University of Foreign Studies Graduate School. He publishes and presents passionately with others and presently researches community potentials. For further discussion on this topic feel free to contact at email@example.com.
Curtis Edlin is a senior learning advisor working in the Self-Access Learning Center at Kanda University of International Studies. Some of his current research interests include advising practices, motivation, self-determination theory (SDT), and performance psychology in learning. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for further discussion on any of these topics.
Borell-Carrió, F., Suchman, A., & Epstein, R. (2004). The biopsychosocial model 25 years later: Principles, practice, and scientific inquiry. Annals of Family Medicine. 2(6), 576-582. https://doi.org/10.1370/afm.245
TED. (2016, January 11). Tom Chi: Everything is connected—Here’s how [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPh3c8Sa37M
Cotterill, S. (2017). Performance psychology theory and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.
Deci, E., & Flaste, R. (1995). Why we do what we do. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Engel, G. L. (1977). The need for a new medical model: A challenge for biomedicine. Science, 196(4286), 129-136. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.847460
Engel, G. L. (1979). The biopsychosocial model and the education of health professionals. General Hospital Psychiatry, 1(2), 156-165. [Originally appeared in, 310: 169-187, June 21, 1978. Reprinted with permission] (Presented as the 23rd Cartwright Lecture, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, November, 1979, under the title “The Biomedical Model: A Procrustean Bed?” https://doi.org/10.1016/0163-8343(79)90062-8
Engel, G. L. (1980). The clinical application of the biopsychosocial model. American Psychiatry, 137, 535-544. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.137.5.535
Grinker, R. (1964). A struggle for eclecticism. American Journal of Psychiatry, 121, 451-457. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.121.5.451
Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect. Psychological Review, 94, 319-340. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.94.3.319
Hooper, D., & Murphey, T. (in progress). Action logging: A source of collaborative communities. Manuscript in preparation.
Hoshi, T., & Kodama, S. (Eds.) (2018). The structure of healthy life determinants: Lessons from the Japanese aging cohort studies. Singapore: Springer.
Jung, C. G. (1957). The undiscovered self. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Larsen-Freeman, D., & Cameron, L. (2006). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0054346
Miyake-Warkentin, K., Hooper, D., & Murphey, T. (in progress). Students’ agency “action” loggings creates teacher efficacy. In P. Clements, A. Krause, & R. Gentry (Eds.), Teacher efficacy, learner agency. Tokyo: JALT.
Murphey, T. (1993). Why don’t teachers learn what learners learn? Taking the guesswork out with action logging. English Teaching Forum, 31(1), 6-10.
Mynard, J. (2019). Self-access learning and advising: Promoting language learner autonomy beyond the classroom. In H. Reinders, S. Ryan, & S. Nakamura (Eds.), Innovation in language teaching and learning: The case of Japan. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
Porath, C. (2016). Mastering civility. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.
Reisinger, L. (2014). Using a bio-psycho-social approach for students with severe challenging behaviours. Learning Landscapes, 7(2), 259-270. doi:10.36510/learnland.v7i2.664
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2008). From ego depletion to vitality: Theory and findings concerning the facilitation of energy available to the self. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(2), 702-717. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2008.00098.x
Sapolsky, T. (2017, April). Robert Sapolsky: The biology of our best and worst selves [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_sapolsky_the_biology_of_our_best_and_worst_selves