The education system is often criticized for placing too much emphasis on subjects considered irrelevant and at the same time omitting essential content. For example, you might think that must-read high school novels fail to connect well with young students, being old and not placed in the present.
Such criticisms are linked one of the most important theories of constructivist psychology: the significant learning theory of David Ausubel.
Who was David Ausubel?
David Paul Ausubel was a psychologist and educator born in 1918 who became one of the great referents of constructivist psychology. As such, he put a lot of emphasis on the development of teaching based on the knowledge of the student.
In other words, the first step of the teaching task had to be to find out what the student knows in order to know the logic behind his way of thinking and acting accordingly.
In this way, for Ausuel teaching was a process by which it helps the student to continue to increase and perfect the knowledge he already has, Instead of forcing a program to be memorized. Education cannot be one-sided transmission of data.
The meaningful learning idea that Ausubel has worked with is that true knowledge can only arise when new content makes sense in light of the knowledge it already has.
In other words, learning means that new learning connects to previous ones; not because they are the same, but because they have to do with them in a way that creates new meaning.
for that new knowledge is inscribed in old knowledge, but the latter, at the same time, are reconfigured by the first. That is, neither new learning is assimilated in the literal way it appears in curricula, nor old knowledge remains unchanged. In turn, new information assimilated makes previous knowledge more stable and complete.
The theory of assimilation
Assimilation theory allows us to understand the fundamental pillar of meaningful learning: how new knowledge is integrated with old.
Assimilation occurs when new information is integrated into a more general cognitive structure, so that there is continuity between it and one serves as an expansion of the other.
For example, if Lamarck’s theory is known, so that a model of evolution is already understood, then it is easier to understand the theory of biological evolution inherited from Darwinism.
But the meaningful learning process does not end there. From the start, whenever you want to remember new information, you can pretend that it is a separate entity from the larger cognitive framework in which it is embedded. however, over time, the two contents merge into one, So that we can no longer evoke a single hearing as an entity distinct from the other.
In a way, the new knowledge acquired at the beginning is forgotten as such, and in its place appears a set of qualitatively different information. This process of forgetting is called by Ausubel “obliterating assimilation”.
What is not meaningful learning?
To better understand David Ausubel’s concept of meaningful learning, it may be helpful to know what it is or the reverse version: mechanical learning, also called memory learning by this same researcher.
It is a very linked to passive learningThis often happens even unintentionally due to simple exposure to repeated concepts that leave their mark on our brains.
In memory learning, new content accumulates in memory without being linked to old knowledge by means of meaning.
This type of learning differs from meaningful learning not only because it does not help expand actual knowledge, but also because new information is more volatile and easier to forget.
For example, learning the names of the autonomous communities of Spain by memorizing words from a list is an example of memorizing learning.
however, machine learning is not at all uselessBut it makes sense at certain stages of development to learn some data. However, it is not enough to be able to generate complex and sophisticated knowledge.
Types of meaningful learning
Meaningful learning is opposed to the above type, fundamentally, because in order for it to occur it is necessary to actively seek a personal connection between the content we are learning and what we have already learned. However, in this process it is possible to find different shades. David Ausubel distinguishes three classes of meaningful learning:
It is the most basic form of learning. In, the person gives meaning to the symbol by associating it with this concrete and objective part of reality they refer to, using readily available concepts.
This type of meaningful learning is similar to the above and built upon its existence, so the two complement and “match”. However, there is a difference between the two.
In learning concepts, instead of associating a symbol with a concrete and objective object, it refers to an abstract ideaSomething that in most cases has a very personal meaning, accessible only from our own personal experiences, something that we and no one else has experienced.
For example, to be able to internalize the idea of what a hyena is, it is necessary to develop an idea of ”hyena” to differentiate these animals from dogs, lions, etc. If we’ve ever seen a hyena in a documentary but couldn’t tell it apart from a large dog, this concept won’t exist, while someone familiar with dogs will likely notice these important anatomical and behavioral differences. and will be able to create this concept. as a separate category from dogs.
In this learning knowledge arises from the logical combination of concepts. It is therefore the most elaborate form of meaningful learning, and from it one is able to make very complex scientific, mathematical and philosophical assessments. Because it is a type of learning that requires more effort, it is done voluntarily and consciously. Of course, it uses the previous two types of meaningful learning.