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Reflections on Significant Learning by David Ausubel

Reflections on Significant Learning by David Ausubel

If I had to reduce all educational psychology to a single principle, I would say the following: the most important isolated factor that influences learning is what the learner already knows. Find out this and show yourself accordingly. David Paul Ausubel

David Ausubel (1989), proposed the term "significant learning" (psychological theory of classroom learning), to designate the process through which new information relates to a relevant aspect of the individual's knowledge structure; specifically deals with learning as it occurs in formal teaching contexts and, in particular, the school classroom, integrating in this process the Cognitive structure, Assimilation, Integrative concept, Student motivation, The teacher as facilitator in the process, Advanced organizers, Learning material (Ausubel, 1989).


  • 1 Social learning
  • 2 Meaningful learning theory
  • 3 Conclusions

Social learning

Learning is a daily occurrence that leads one to think that, randomly and systematically, a new skill or a new concept is learned (Castañeda, 2004). It is this possibility of reconstructing mental processes that gives rise to generalization (Sastre, 1996). The conviction that knowledge is actively constructed by cognitive subjects, that is, it is not passively received from the environment or from others (Díaz, 2002). One of the main characteristics of Ausubel's theory is to highlight the importance of the student's prior knowledge; on which his work focuses.

In an investigation carried out at the Iztapalapa Metropolitan University in Mexico City, by the area of ​​Social Psychology with primary school teachers in the State of Mexico, we find that the concepts proposed in Ausubel's theory are still valid in the school classroom; however, two more concepts are also proposed: "The family context" and "Practical knowledge for everyday life" (of the student). Thus, the educational work would have greater results if the student's family were mostly engaged in this process.

Theory of significant learning

Ausubel developed the theory of meaningful learning, one of the basic concepts of modern constructivism. It applies to the cognitive concept of learning, where a person interacts with their environment and tries to make sense of what they perceive.

Memorial and meaningful learning

According to Ausubel, in an attempt to acquire meaningful knowledge, the student can approach the task in two different ways. If a person tries to memorize their identity card number without relating the numbers to anything other than a random series, that is to learn by heart. On the other hand, if a person tries create some connection with something you already know, you will experience meaningful learning. An example could be a man who memorizes a long-distance phone call by recognizing that the ten-digit number is actually three sets of three, three and four digits. Also, the numbers (for him) can be retrieved because he is familiar with the area code of that state

Thus, the concepts learned that are related to experiences or memories that are stronger in the person's memory are more likely to be retained. While concepts that are learned in isolation, such as memory learning only, tend to be quickly forgotten.

Is meaningful learning very different from memory learning?

Yes, but only if you take into account that meaningful learning is very connected to the process of knowledge retention within cognitive structures. Memory sometimes works as a simple type of short term memory. However, knowledge can only be effectively retained if it is meaningful and, therefore, must be processed so that it can truly be anchored in the mind.


Ausubel's work is generally compared to Bruner's work because they both had similar views on the hierarchical nature of knowledge. However, Bruner gave more emphasis to the discovery process. On the other hand, Ausubel was strongly oriented towards verbal learning methods of speaking, reading and writing.

You might be interested: Constructivism in education


  • Ausubel, D. (1989), Educational Psychology: a cognitive point of view. Mexico threshing.
  • Castañeda, M. (2004). The media and educational technology. Mexico, D.F .: Trillas
  • Díaz Barriga, F. and Hernández Rojas, G. (2002). Teaching strategies for meaningful learning. A constructivist interpretation (2nd ed.). Mexico, D.F .: Mc Graw Hill.
  • Sastre G., Moreno, (1996), Discovery and knowledge building. Spain: Gedisa.

By Lic. María de Jesús Pérez Hernández