(Historian: Revathy Kumar)
For nearly four decades (1960–1996), Merlin Wittrock served as a full-time professor at the University of California Los Angeles in the Graduate School of Education. He earned a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1960. Dr. Wittrock received many honors during his distinguished career, including the Thorndike Lifetime Achievement Award. He was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, and the Association for Psychological Science; he was also an invited fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.
He worked tirelessly to serve the field of educational psychology. He was the 1984–85 President of Division 15, APA. He served on the boards of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Committee on Research and Evaluation; the National Center for Research in Mathematical Sciences Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and the University of California Regents’ Board.
Wittrock’s signature generative theory paved the way for a major paradigm shift in research from behaviorism to constructive cognitive psychology. Through his publications, which total more than 200 books, articles, and chapters on learning, cognition, instruction, and teaching, he emphasized the importance of transfer, prior learning, and the interaction of student characteristics and instructional methods. He was the master editor of the first Handbook of Research on Teaching (1985) sponsored by American Educational Research Association, and he co-authored the chapter on problem-solving transfer in the Handbook of Educational Psychology (1996, 2006). Several of his articles expounding the generative learning process are published in Educational Psychologist (Wittrock, 1974, 1978, 1989, 1991, 1992). In a fitting tribute to Merlin Wittrock, a whole section of the January 2010 issue of Educational Psychologist is devoted to honoring his life and contributions to the field of educational psychology. This section appropriately includes Wittrock’s timeless 1974 article “Learning as a Generative Process.”
Wittrock’s work is as relevant today as it was groundbreaking more than thirty-five years ago. As Tobias (p. 53, 2010) observes in his tribute to Wittrock, “Educational psychology is a better field as the result of his efforts.”