David Ausubel: Biography of this psychologist

Constructivism is one of the strongest currents in educational psychology. One of its fundamental premises is the idea that new learning taught to students must be based on what they already know, motivating them to participate in their own teaching through discovery.

This idea was strongly defended by psychologist David Ausubel, considered the greatest reference of the constructivist current, exposing it in more detail in his theory of significant learning.

We discover our life through a biography of David Ausubel.

    Short biography of David Ausubel

    David Paul Ausubel was born in New York, Brooklyn, United States, on October 25, 1918. Little David grew up in a family of emigrants, Coming from Carpathian Galicia, having as paternal grandfathers to the historian Nathan Ausubel, historian of the Jewish city.

    Little is known about his childhood other than that he grew up in the United States. As an adult, David Ausubel would study psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as medicine at Middlesex University.

    After completing his studies, he worked as an assistant surgeon and resident psychiatrist in the United States Public Health Service and immediately after the end of World War II he worked with the United Nations in Germany, treating displaced people. medically.

    After completing his training in psychiatry, he would study at Columbia University, Where he would get his doctorate in developmental psychology. During this time, he became particularly interested in the field of drug addiction, becoming a senior psychiatrist at Buffalo State Hospital in 1947.

    Between 1950 and 1966, he worked on research projects at the University of Illinois, where he published several papers on cognitive psychology. In addition to becoming head of the Office of Educational Research at the same university.

    In 1957 he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study in New Zealand. There he would study developmental psychology, through cross-cultural comparative research on the Maori ethnic group. Thanks to his research with this ethnic group, Ausubel will write several books, such as The Fern and the Tiki (1960) an American vision of New Zealand.

    In 1961 he published Maori Youth, where he presented a psycho-ethnological study on cultural deprivation. In this text he expressed the idea that faulty education could lead to severe cultural deprivation. He used this book to defend the idea that culture should be used consistently as a variable in psychological research.

    He would later accept visiting professorships at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. He would also teach at European universities such as the Salesian University of Rome and the University of Munich.

    He was director of the Department of Educational Psychology for Graduate Studies at New York University, Where he would work until the year he retired from academia, 1973.

    In 1976, David Ausubel was awarded by the American Psychological Association (APA) for his contributions to educational psychology. He then returned to practice as a psychiatrist at Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center.

    David Paul Ausubel died on July 9, 2008, at the age of 89. Although very little is known about his life, what remains for posterity is his view of the learning process. Ausubel considered that if I had to reduce all the psychology of education to a single principle, I would say that the most important factor influencing learning is what the student already knows.

      The theory of meaningful learning

      David Ausubel he is known to have developed the theory of meaningful learning, One of the fundamental concepts of modern constructivism. He defends the idea of ​​learning as a complex cognitive concept rather than simply a memorial. Learning isn’t just about copying data into the mind, it’s about making sense of what you’ve recently learned and relating to the environment accordingly.

      From Ausubel’s perspective, educational theories and methods should relate to the activity that takes place in the classroom and to the cognitive, affective and social factors that may take place. Therefore, he argues that the student’s previous knowledge should be taken into account so that in this way it is used as the basis for the new knowledge taught in the classroom. The idea is to provide meaningful learning, which enriches the cognitive structure of the student.

      Based on all this, it can be understood that the theory of meaningful learning involves a perspective frontally opposed to the classic view, much advocated for decades in school, of teaching content in a memorized way (e.g. , From memory the adverbs, the tenses of verbs without understanding why they are called like that …). In the learning of memory, the incorporation of knowledge is arbitrary and weak, Which means that in the medium and long term, new knowledge is forgotten.

      The educational process

      Based on Ausubel’s approaches, it is extracted that in the educational process, the people involved must meet a number of characteristics, which we will see later.

      1. Characteristics of the teacher

      • It must present the information to the student as it is to be learned in its final form.
      • Introduce the topics using and building on the student’s previous diagrams.
      • Give information to the student so that he discovers new knowledge.
      • Provide useful information for students to come up with new ideas on their own.
      • Presents teaching materials in a familiar and organized manner.
      • Involve the student actively.

      2. Role of the educator

      • Receive the topic or teacher information in its final form.
      • Relate information to its cognitive structure.
      • Discover new knowledge from what has been seen in class.
      • Create new ideas with content learned in class.
      • Organize and order the materials provided by the teacher.

      3. Characteristics of the student

      • Be able to actively process information.
      • To be able to assimilate and retain information.
      • To be able to link the new structures to the previous ones.
      • Have a good disposition to learn.
      • Have a long-term memory.


      Ausubel’s work is generally purchased with that of Jérôme Bruner, Since the two authors had similar views on the hierarchical nature of knowledge. However, Bruner placed more emphasis on the process of discovery, while Ausubel was more oriented towards verbal-type learning methods, such as speaking, reading, and writing.

      We must not forget that David Ausubel was influenced by Jean Piaget. His ideas turned out to be quite similar to the concept of Piagetian concept maps, connecting them to his explanation of how people acquire knowledge. Based on this, Ausubel hypothesized that people acquire new knowledge primarily by directly exposing themselves to him through discovery.

      bibliographical references

      • Ausubel, DP (1960). Using advanced organizers to learn and retain meaningful verbal material. Journal of Educational Psychology.
      • Ausubel, DP (1962). A subsumption theory of meaningful verbal learning and retention. The Journal of General Psychology.
      • Ausubel, D. (1963). The psychology of meaningful verbal learning. New York: Grune and Stratton.
      • Ausubel, DP (1976) Educational psychology. A cognitive perspective. Ed. Trilles. Mexico.

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