David ausubel and constructivism

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Synthesis Paper: David Ausubel

David Ausubel said “"If I had to reduce all of educational psychology to just one principle, I would say this: The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly." David Ausubel, one of the most important personalities of constructivism, was an American psychologist born in October1918. He studied in New York University and was influenced by the ideas of Jean Piaget. One of his major contributions to the department of psychology was the development of advanced organizers. He also developed the assimilation/subsumption theory in which he distinguishes between rote and meaningful learning and states that knowledge is hierarchically organized with subordinate concepts that areless general and more specific and superordinate concept that are more general and more inclusive. Ausubel also suggests that new information is important to the extent that it can be connected to previous knowledge. Rote learning is arbitrary, non-substantive incorporation of information and does not lead to the development of cognitive structure while meaningful learning is non-arbitrary,non-verbatim, and essential to the development of cognitive structure.


Learning involves the gaining of knowledge. Retention and transfer of knowledge are two of the most significant goals in education. Retention is when a student is able to remember material later on in the same way it was presented to him in class. Transfer is the capability for a student not only to remember but also tounderstand what was learned in class and be able to use what he has learned. For example, after having a lesson on Albert Einstein and his accomplishments, a retention quiz might say what was the formula he invented, while a transfer quiz might ask a student to explain with this formula how mass can be transformed into energy and how does it work. This distinction can be seen as how Ausubel relate tothe differences between shallow and deep knowledge. Rote learning or shallow refers when a student has the ability of retention while meaningful learning or deep is when a student has the ability of retention and transfer of knowledge; how can a solution to one problem be used to solve another? This is very important in Ausubel’s theory. As teachers, deep knowledge or meaningful learning shouldbe your goal, but as Willingham discusses, teachers should be realistic about how deep students can get with the short time they have for each lesson. To ensure meaningful teaching, it is essential to stop memorizing data of rote learning and actively begin to manipulate our thoughts and ideas.

Meaningful learning is concerned with how students can learn large pieces of information fromverbal/textual presentation in their lessons. Meaningful learning is also characterized by four Ausbelian processes, which are derivative subsumption, correlative subsumption, superordinate learning, and combinatorial learning. Derivative subsumption explains how new information we are thought is an example of a model or idea we were already thought. For example, lets imagine a student has learned theconcept of an “ant”. He knows that an ant is a black insect he know the form the animal has, and that they are very tiny. Now he learns about a type of ant he had never heard of before, lets say carpenter ant. His new knowledge of a carpenter aunt gets attached to his previous knowledge of ants without changing the concept he had of ants. Correlative subsumption states that new information welearn extends a concept we have already learned. Lets suppose that student finds a red ant, instead of black. In order to gather this new information, I need to change my concept of an ant so it includes the possibility of an ant being red. Superordinate learning shows when someone know a lot of examples of a concept but does not know the concept itself. For instance, a student is familiar with a...
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