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David Ausubel : biography

October 25, 1918 - July 9, 2008

David Paul Ausubel (1918–2008) was an American psychologist born in New York. His most significant contribution to the fields of educational psychology, cognitive science, and science education learning was on the development and research on advance organizers since 1960.


Ausubel was influenced by the teachings of Jean Piaget. Similar to Piaget’s ideas of conceptual schemes, Ausubel related this to his explanation of how people acquire knowledge. “David Ausubel theorized that people acquire[d] knowledge primarily by being exposed directly to it rather than through discovery” (Woolfolk et al., 2010, p. 288)Woolfolk, A.E., Winne, P.H., Perry, N.E., & Shapka, J. (2010). Educational Psychology (4th ed). Toronto: Pearson Canada. ISBN 978-0-205-75926-2 In other words, Ausubel believed that understanding concepts, principles, and ideas are achieved through deductive reasoning.

Similarly, he believed in the idea of meaningful learning as opposed to rote memorization. In the preface to his book Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View, he says that “If [he] had to reduce all of educational psychology to just one principle, [he] would say this: The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly” (Ausubel, 1968, p. vi)Ausubel, D.P. (1968). Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Through his belief of meaningful learning, Ausubel developed his theory of advance organizers.

Advance Organizers

An advance organizer is information presented by an instructor that helps the student organize new incoming information.Mayer, Richard E. Learning and Instruction. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Merrill, 2003. ISBN 978-0-13-098396-1] This is achieved by directing attention to what is important in the coming material, highlighting relationships, and providing a reminder about relevant prior knowledge.

Advance organizers make it easier to learn new material of a complex or otherwise difficult nature, provided the following two conditions are met:

1. The student must process and understand the information presented in the organizer—this increases the effectiveness of the organizer itself.

2. The organizer must indicate the relations among the basic concepts and terms that will be used.


Ausubel distinguishes between two kinds of advance organizer: comparative and expository.

1. Comparative Organizers

The main goal of comparative organizers is to activate existing schemas. Similarly, they act as reminders to bring into the working memory of what you may not realize is relevant. By acting as reminders, the organizer points out explicitly “whether already established anchoring ideas are nonspecifically or specifically relevant to the learning material” (Ausubel & Robinson, 1969, p. 146).Ausubel, D.P., Robinson, F.G. (1969). School Learning: An Introduction To Educational Psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. ISBN 978-0-03-076705-0 Similarly, a comparative organizer is used both to integrate as well as discriminate. It “integrate[s] new ideas with basically similar concepts in cognitive structure, as well as increase[s] discriminability between new and existing ideas which are essentially different but confusably similar” (Ausubel, 1968, p. 149).

An example of a comparative organizer would be one used for a history lesson on revolutions. This organizer “might be a statement that contrasts military uprisings with the physical and social changes involved in the Industrial Revolution” (Woolfolk et al., 2010, p. 289). Furthermore, you could also compare common aspects of other revolutions from different nations.

2. Expository Organizers

“In contrast, expository organizers provide new knowledge that students will need to understand the upcoming information” (Woolfolk et al., 2010, p. 289). Expository organizers are often used when the new learning material is unfamiliar to the learner. They often relate what the learner already knows with the new and unfamiliar material—this in turn is aimed to make the unfamiliar material more plausible to the learner.

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Living octopus

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