Organizational Psychology Programs: Common Courses
The courses in an organizational psychology degree program don’t all focus specifically on organizational psychology. Instead, you will take a wide range of psychology courses as you pursue your degree.
The specific courses you might take will vary based on a number of factors. First, not all organizational psychology degree programs offer the same courses, nor do they all have the same requirements for graduation. Secondly, whether you study in-person or online could change the courses you are required to take to earn your degree.
Related resource: 10 Most Affordable Top-Ranked Master’s in Organizational Psychology
Of course, another factor that might influence what courses you take in pursuit of an organizational psychology degree is the area of emphasis you’re pursuing. That is, this is a degree program that prepares you for a vast array of exciting careers. This being the case, the courses you take might change depending on which career field you wish to explore.
All that being said, there are many courses that are common to most organizational psychology degree programs. Let’s have a look at some of those courses so you can develop a better understanding of the subject matter you will likely be exploring in your degree.
Introduction to Psychology
Perhaps the most common course in an organizational psychology degree program (and any other psychology degree, for that matter), is Introduction to Psychology.
Also called Psyc 100 or Psyc 1000, this course is one of the basic prerequisites to any psychology-related program. It introduces you to the scientific study of mental processes and human behavior. By learning how to evaluate research methods and exploring the various areas of specialization within the field of psychology, students will complete the course prepared for more advanced courses in psychology.
Think of this course as the building block upon which all your future psychology studies will be built. You’ll be introduced to major fields of psychology, like educational psychology, biological psychology, and cognitive psychology. You’ll also learn about essential psychological perspectives like Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic perspective, the humanistic perspective espoused by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, and behaviorism, which was championed by B.F. Skinner.
You’ll also learn about central figures in the development of psychology. In addition to those named above, you’ll learn about the contributions of Jean Piaget, who was instrumental in our understanding of child cognitive development; Albert Bandura, whose social cognitive theory was among the first to examine behavior through a combined lens of behaviorism and cognitive psychology; Erik Erickson, who disagreed with Freud and believed that personality develops over time; and Wilhelm Wundt, who is credited as being the father of psychological science.
Mixed amongst these studies, you’ll be introduced to topics related to:
- Brain development
- Personality development
- Issues of death and dying
- Social psychology
- Cognitive psychology
- Experimental psychology
- Abnormal psychology
- Sensation and perception
- Learning and memory
And that’s just the beginning!
Of course, with so many different topics to explore, an introductory psychology course is just that – introductory. The depth of detail is relatively minimal, but you will be introduced to a variety of topics, most of which you’ll have a chance to explore in later classes.
Another common course that is required to earn an organizational psychology degree is cognitive psychology.
After getting a brief introduction to this field in introduction to psychology, this course delves further into mental processes and examines the various theories and research methods pertaining to thinking, memory, problem-solving, and language.
Your learning on these topics will often take place in two forms – theory and method.
For example, a cognitive psychology class will explore how cognitive psychology theory differs from other theories, like behaviorism. So, you’ll learn that cognitive psychologists believe that how a person thinks is essential to understanding how a person behaves.
Behaviorists want to study only what can be observed and objectively measured. But cognitive psychologists differ in that they believe the mediational processes that occur in an organism’s brain are just as important to study and understand as their outward behaviors.
You can see how this comparison draws a distinction between these two approaches – cognitive psychology has the utmost concern for those mental processes that can’t be overtly seen or measured.
A cognitive psychology course will also lead you on an exploration of different methods of studying human behavior.
For example, you might study brain scanning techniques and learn how they can be used to better understand the processes associated with memory. As another example, you might study memory disorders and how those disorders can be treated.
Other common areas of study in this course include:
- Language disorders
- Speech Processing
- Sensation and perception
- Processes of attention
This isn’t a complete list of cognitive psychology topics, but you can see how this course will expose you to all manner of studies of brain-based behavior.
Cross-cultural psychology is another common course in organizational psychology programs. The focus of cross-cultural psychology is on developing a better understanding of how people from different cultures think and behave. Cross-cultural studies examine both similarities and differences between individuals of different cultures and seek to identify similarities and differences between different cultural groups as a whole as well.
This approach is valuable for studying many different aspects of human behavior. This includes:
- Cognitive styles
- How emotions are expressed
- Personality development
- Individualism and collectivism
With globalization bringing disparate parts of the world together on a larger scale, and with businesses becoming more and more diverse, this class is highly useful for persons who want to become organizational psychologists.
It is critical that people in the business world have the ability to empathize with others – to understand their worldview, the ways in which they perceive the world around them, and the way they think and feel. More importantly, it’s crucial to understand how those processes might differ from one’s own worldview.
For example, the ways in which emotions are expressed received, and perceived can vary from one culture to the next. If employees at a global business only understand emotional expression from their cultural point of view, it can lead to conflicts and misunderstandings with fellow employees that have a different cultural upbringing.
In other words, cross-cultural psychology will help make you a more informed organizational psychologist, and one that can champion acceptance and understanding of differences between employees.
Perhaps the most important course in organizational psychology degree programs is industrial-organizational psychology.
The primary goal of this course is to teach students how they can improve the effectiveness of workplaces through such things as assessments, research, and interventions. For example, you might learn how to administer a skills assessment that can be used to categorize potential employees in terms of the job roles that best fit their skills. As another example, you might learn effective strategies for intervening in an employee-employee conflict, like using conflict resolution strategies for mitigating workplace issues and helping employees get along.
Additionally, you’ll acquire skills related to the following:
- Research skills – You’ll learn how to use quantitative research methods to evaluate how a company and its employees are operating. Using the data you collect, you can identify problem areas and suggest solutions for improving things like productivity or worker job satisfaction.
- Evaluation skills – You’ll learn how to devise criteria that allow for easy and accurate evaluation of individual workers, groups of workers, and even entire organizations. By identifying strengths and weaknesses, you can make more informed recommendations for making improvements.
- Training skills – Sometimes, organizational psychologists are asked to develop training programs for new employees. So, in this course, you will learn how to teach, lead, train, and motivate employees.
Studying industrial-organizational psychology isn’t just about the workplace, though. You’ll also study consumer behavior so you can consult with businesses and organizations on how to better attract new customers and retain the customers they already have.
This course is often lecture-based, though you can expect to take part in some individual and group research. You’ll likely also review various case studies that allow you to see how organizational psychology is implemented in the workplace to help companies achieve their long-term goals.
As an additional bonus, most industrial-organizational psychology courses discuss the different work settings and applications of I-O psychology. For example, you might explore different careers in the I-O field, like working as a consultant, being in private practice, or working for a government agency or private company.
Most organizational psychology degree programs also require students to take social psychology.
Social psychology is a very interesting class that explores how people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions affect their interactions with others.
Broadly, introductory social psychology courses offer a basic introduction to essential social psychology principles. You can expect to learn about:
- Research and data collection methods
- Self-esteem and self-worth
- Prejudice and racism
- Conformity and nonconformity
- Interpersonal attraction
- Errors and biases
- Intelligence and culture
Additionally, social psychology courses often explore attitudes, behaviors, social cognition, and social influence. Again, these things are studied through the lens of how society influences individuals to think, feel, and behave.
Obviously, having these skills is important as a future organizational psychology. After all, if you’re tasked with improving employee morale at work, you need to understand things like how attitudes are developed, how groups can influence individuals’ behavior, and issues of conformity as well.
As an industrial-organizational psychologist, you will often be asked to help assess new employees, train new employees, and help organizations find the ideal spots for employees to work.
Part of that process will involve assisting employees in building additional knowledge and skills such that they are successful in their position.
For example, if a new hire showed aptitude for working with her hands in her initial evaluation, you might work with her to develop skills that would enable her to move into a position on an assembly line in a manufacturing setting. As another example, you might counsel an employee that wants to move into management on the steps they need to take to make that kind of advancement in their career. This might involve conducting interest inventories, helping the employee identify business classes they can take online, or working with the employee to enhance their leadership skills.
Career development courses also help you build skills that are needed for working with diverse client populations. Even if you’re employed by a particular company (as opposed to being a consultant or in private practice), the chances are good that you will work with people that are highly diverse. Going back to the social psychology and cross-cultural psychology discussions above, it’s necessary to understand the differences among social, cultural, and economic groups so you can best serve their needs.
If research is part of the job as an organizational psychologist, you need to have the knowledge and skills that enable you to collect, analyze, and interpret data. A psychological statistics course will help you do just that.
Typically, organizational psychology degree programs will require at least two psychological statistics courses – an introductory course that gives you the building blocks to explore more advanced statistical methods in the second course.
For the purposes of studying psychology, there are many different types of statistical methods and procedures that can be valuable to you. This includes:
- Central tendency, variables, and Z scores
- Correlations and predictions
- Normal distributions
- T-Tests, Chi squares, ANOVAs, and other statistical measures
Learning about these methods will help you make sense of the data you collect. This, in turn, allows you to make inferences about the data that can be used to help you carry out the duties of your job in a more impactful way.
Other Organizational Psychology Courses
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the courses you can expect to take in an organizational psychology degree program. You might be required to study educational psychology, the history, and systems of psychology, business or marketing, leadership development, or even succession planning.
However, the courses described above are among the most common that you’ll find in undergraduate and master’s-level programs. Once you get into a doctoral program, you’ll find that your courses and research are much more focused on a specific area, as opposed to being more broadly based.
Positions in organizational psychology allow individuals to combine their passions for business and psychology into one exciting career. And for those persons who may be wondering what courses are common in an organizational psychology degree program, the information described above should be able to help you do that!
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Updated June 2021