2. Meet David Ausubel
David Ausubel was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1918.
He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in
He earned a PH D in developmental psychology from Columbia
Ausubel published multiple books and articles on developmental and
In 1976 he received the Thorndike Award from the American
Psychological Association for "Distinguished Psychological
Contributions to Education".
Dr. David Ausubel passed away on July 9, 2008.
3. Views of Learning
David Ausubel was a cognitive learning theorist who believed
that what a student already knows is the determining factor
of what can and should be learned next.
Learners seek to make sense of their interactions by attaching
new knowledge with that which they already know.
For Ausubel, learning is “bringing something new into our
cognitive structure and attaching it to our existing
knowledge that is located there” (Hannum, 2005). This was
the focus of his work.
4. Learning Application
Teacher’s Role: The teacher’s primary role is to present the
information in a way that is meaningful to the student. This can
only be achieved if a teacher is aware of what a child already
knows. Materials must be presented in its final form.
Student Role: Ausubel encouraged receptive learning, rather than
student-centered learning such as discovery learning. Students
play an active role because they are the ones who must take in
the new information, make connections in their cognitive
structures, and make links amongst concepts. In doing this,
students are the ones who make learning meaningful.
5. How to Spot Ausubel at Work in a Classroom
1. Advanced Organizers: This is a tool widely used in classrooms today to
activate relevant knowledge and make connections with the new
materials that are to be assimilated into existing cognitive structures.
He emphasized starting with the “big picture” of a subject and filling in
the details later.
2. Pretesting: This is done in order to understand exactly what students
3. Student Grouping: Students with matching prior knowledge about a
subject should be grouped together.
4. Differentiated Direct Instruction: Instruction must match a student’s
pre-existing knowledge. Individual differences
must guide teaching.
6. Theories of Learning Ausubel DISAGREED With
Rote Learning: Learning that does not make meaningful cognitive
connections will be easily forgotten.
Discovery Learning: Ausubel sees no advantage to discovery
learning. It takes longer and students may discover information that is
wrong, therefore learning incorrectly.
Readiness to Learn: Readiness to learn has nothing to do with a
stage of development, rather only with pre-existing knowledge in their
Motivation is not a precursor to learning: “Motivation is
more a result or outcome of instruction rather than a cause of it”
(Hannum, 2005). Students do not require motivation to learn.
7. Comparisons to Other Learning Theorists
Ausubel’s work has been compared to Bruner.
They both held similar views of the
hierarchical nature of knowledge.
Ausubel was influenced by Piaget’s work on
Similar to Skinner, Ausubel believed practice is
very important in learning, although they
disagree on why and how it works.
8. Where I Stand With Ausubel
I agree with most of Ausubel’s findings on cognitive learning, and have
used most of his suggestions in my classroom settings to a certain degree at
one time or another. I have used student grouping on a regular basis in which
students are grouped according to similar levels of understanding in a
particular subject area. Pretesting students has aided me in forming
appropriate groups. Through this grouping, I was able to achieve
differentiated direct instruction that was suited for each group’s level of
knowledge. Most lessons that I teach start with the “big picture” in order to
let students know where we are going in our learning and to draw them in by
connecting it to their background knowledge. Though I have dabbled in the
use of advanced organizers in my classroom, I have not used them to the
extent in which Ausubel would have me on a daily basis. How are the
theories of Ausubel at work in your classroom setting?
9. How Does Ausubel Fit With Our Schiro Learnings?
In relation to our learnings of curriculum theories presented in Michael Schiro’s
book, Ausubel would be most aligned to the scholar academic ideology. This is
concluded by his focus on how students learn in the cognitive developments of their
minds in order to understand the school subjects, which is a similar goal of scholar
academics. For example, “underlying the scholar academic ideology is a belief that
man’s essence is summed up by his ability to think, to understand, to reason, to
reflect...in short, to exercise the intellectual capabilities of his mind in his endeavor
to understand his world” (Schiro, 2013 p. 24). Furthermore, in the scholar academic
ideology, the focus is on the “rational or intellectual aspects of the child’s mind”
(Schiro, 2013 p. 45), as is the concern with Ausubel. Just as scholar academics
encourages student “grouping by achievement” in order for “teachers to tailor
instruction so that everyone is suitably challenged” (Schiro, 2013 p. 48) so to does
David Ausubel. The connections between Ausubel and the scholar academic ideology
are numerous, although specific differences exist.
Ausubel, David P. Retrieved (March 20, 2015) from
Cooper, Sunny. “Theories of Learning in Educational Psychology,” (2009). Retrieved
(March 17, 2015) from http://www.lifecircles-inc.com/index.html.
Hannum, Wallace. “David Ausubel’s Theory.” Learning Theory Fundamentals, (2005).
Retrieved (March 17, 2015) from http://www.theoryfundamentals.com/index.html.
Schiro, M.S. (2013). Curriculum theory: Conflicting visions and enduring concerns,