David Ausubel

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David Ausubel (1918 ~ )

Developed The Subsumption Theory and Advance Organizers

    • Born in Brooklyn, New York
    • Married Pearl Leibowitz in 1943
    • 2 children.

Where did he get his PhD?

  • He got his PH.D. at Columbia University in New York in 1950

Where has he taught / worked?

Ausubel was an assistant surgeon and psychiactric resident with the U.S. Public Health Service and worked in Germany in the medical treatment of displaced persons after W.W. II. He taught at the University of Illinios from 1950-1966. He was professor of psychology, education, and medical education at the University of Toronto (1966-68) before going to the City University of New York, where he headed the doctoral program in educational psychology, until his retirement in 1975. From 1981 he was a pshychiatrist at Rockland Chilidren's Psychiatric Center.

He received a Fulbright Research Grant in 1957-58 to do a comparative study of the vocational motivation of Maoris and Europeans. (During these 11 months his writings included, Maori Youth and The Fern and the Tiki.

What things is he best known for?

Subsumption Therory and Advance Organizers

Subsumption Theory

A primary process in learning is subsumption in which new material is related to relevant ideas in the existing cognitive structure on a substantive, non-verbatim basis. Cognitive structures represent the residue of all learning experiences; forgetting occurs because certain details get integrated and lose their individual identity.


Advance Organizer entails the use of introductory materials with a high level of generality that introduce new material and facilitate learning by providing an "anchoring idea" to which the new idea can be attached. Cognitive theorists believe that it is essential to relate new knowledge to existing information learned. Teachers can facilitate learning by organizing information presented so that new concepts are easily relatable to concepts already learned. Examples of devices that may be used include: pictures, titles of stories, reviews of previously learned concepts, short video segments, a paradigm, a grammar rule, etc. (direct quote from David Ausubel's Cognitive Learning Theory).

some principles
1. "Before we can present new material effectively, we must increase the stability and clarity of our student's structures."

2. "The sequence of the curriculum is organized so that each successive learning is carefully related to what has been learned before."

3. Asubel describes advance organizers as "introductory material presented ahead of the learning task and at a higher level of abstraction and inclusiveness than the learning task itself".

4. Examples of Advance organizers
    • Expository
      simply describes the new content
    • Narrative
      presents new information in a story format
    • Skimming
      skimming material before reading can be a powerful organizer
    • Graphic organizers
      effective with all types of organizers: pictographs, descriptive patterns, concept patterns, etc.

David Ausubel says,

  • "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."

What are his three most important publications?

(1954,1977). Theory and Problems of Adolescent Development
(1963). The Psychology of Meaningful Verbal Learning.
(1969). School Learning
An Introduction to Educational Psychology
  • He completed 120 scientific articles, and continued to publish (4 books) after his retirement at the age of 75.

Who are their most frequent collaborators?

Ausabel, along instructional scientists Robert Gagne, Leslie Briggs, David Merrill, Albert Bandura, Benjamin Bloom, Walter Dick, and others developed the systems approach which utilizes research on the conditions of learning required for people to achieve clearly defined performance outcomes. The model is based upon and has grown out of a thorough understanding of learning theory and research.


  • These theorists grounded their research on the work of Jean Piaget. Piaget believed that people

actively "organize experience".

Who are their main philosophical rivals (if any)?

Richard Clough Anderson(1977), R. J. Spiro (1977), & Anderson(1980), assert that Ausubel's assimilation theory of meaningful learning and retention is "hopelessly vague."

B.R. Barnes & Ev Clawson (1975), "Advance organizers as presently conducted, do not facilitate learning."

Richard Mayer (1979): Twenty years of research on advance organizers: "Assimilation theory is still the best predictor of results."

What (in)famous / apocryphal stories exist about this person?

Dr Asubel's wife Pearl told me that they (the family of David Asubel) were happy to come back home to "The corn fields of Illinois" after their trip to New Zealand (where Asubel studied on a Fulbright Scholarship)The winter was cold, and houses were not insulated at all there. The scenery was beautiful, but they preferred New York and Illinios. She mentioned that "David was always on time to everything".

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