David Ausubel: biography of this psychologist
This was the life of this psychologist and researcher interested in education.
Constructivism is one of the strongest currents within educational psychology. One of its fundamental premises is the idea that the new learning imparted to students should be based on what they already know, motivating them to participate in their own learning through discovery.
This idea was strongly defended by the psychologist David Ausubel, who is considered the major reference of the constructivist current, exposing it in more detail in his theory of meaningful learning.
Let's discover his life through a biography of David Ausubel.
David Ausubel's short biography
David Paul Ausubel was born in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, USA, on October 25, 1918. The young David grew up in the bosom of an emigrant family, coming from the Carpathian Galicia.His paternal grandfather was the historian Nathan Ausubel, historian of the Jewish people.
Little is known about his childhood, apart from the fact that he grew up in the United States. As an adult, David Ausubel studied psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and 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 persons medically.
Having completed his training in psychiatry, he would go on to study at Columbia University.D. 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 would work on research projects at the University of Illinois, where he would publish several papers on cognitive psychology. He also became head of the Office of Educational Research at the same university.
In 1957 he received a Fulbright research grant 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 would write several books, such as The Fern and the Tiki (1960), an American vision of New Zealand
In 1961 he published Maori Youthin which he presented a psychoethnological study on cultural deprivation. In this text he expressed the idea that educational malfunctioning could result in severe cultural deprivation.. He used this book to defend the idea that culture should be used systematically as a variable in psychological research.
He would later accept positions as a visiting professor at the Ontario Institute of 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 Universitywhere he worked until he retired from the academic world in 1973.
In 1976 David Ausubel was awarded by the American Psychological Association (APA) for his contributions to the psychology of education. He subsequently returned to practice as a psychiatrist at Rockland Children's Psychiatric Center.
David Paul Ausubel passed away on July 9, 2008, at the age of 89. Although little is really known about his life, what has remained for posterity is his vision of the learning process. Ausubel considered that, if he had to reduce the whole psychology of education to just one principle, he would say that the most important factor that influences learning is what the learner already knows..
The theory of meaningful learning
David Ausubel is known for having developed the theory of meaningful learning, one of the fundamental concepts of constructivism.one of the fundamental concepts of modern constructivism. It defends the idea of learning as a complex cognitive concept rather than a merely memoristic one. Learning is not only copying data in the mind, it is making sense of what has just been learned and relating to the environment accordingly.
According to Ausubel's perspective, educational theories and methods must be related to the activity that takes place in the classroom and to the cognitive, affective and social factors that may occur. Thus, he argues that the student's previous knowledge should be taken into account so that it can be used as a basis for the new knowledge imparted in class. The idea is that meaningful learning takes place, enriching the student's cognitive structure.
Based on all this, it can be understood that the theory of meaningful learning implies a perspective that is directly opposed to the classic vision, widely defended for decades in schools, of teaching content in a memoristic way (p. e.g., memorizing adverbs, verb tenses without understanding why they are called that way...). In rote learning, the incorporation of knowledge is arbitrary and weak, which means that in the medium and long term the new knowledge is forgotten.This means that in the medium and long term the new knowledge is forgotten.
The educational process
On the basis of Ausubel's approaches, it can be deduced that in the educational process, those involved must meet a series of characteristics, which we are going to see below.
1. Characteristics of the teacher
- Must present the information to the student as it should be learned in its final form.
- Present topics using and taking advantage of the student's previous schemes.
- Give information to the student so that he/she can discover new knowledge.
- Provide useful information for the learner to come up with new ideas on his own.
- Show pedagogical materials in a colloquial and organized way.
- To make the student participate actively.
2. Learner's role
- Receive the topic or information from the teacher in its final form.
- Relate the information to his or her cognitive structure.
- Discover new knowledge from what has been seen in class.
- Create new ideas with the contents acquired in the classroom.
- Organize and order the material provided by the teacher.
3. Student characteristics
- To be able to actively process information.
- To be able to assimilate and retain information.
- To be able to relate new structures with previous ones.
- To possess a good disposition to achieve learning.
- To have long-term memory.
Ausubel's work is generally compared with that of Jerome Brunersince both authors had similar views on the hierarchical nature of knowledge. However, Bruner gave more emphasis to the discovery process, while Ausubel was more oriented towards verbal learning methods, such as speaking, reading and writing.
It should not be forgotten that David Ausubel was influenced by Jean Piaget. His ideas turned out to be quite similar to the concept of Piagetian conceptual schemes, relating them to his explanation of how people acquire knowledge. Based on this, Ausubel theorized that people acquire new knowledge primarily from direct exposure to it, through discovery.
- Ausubel, DP (1960). The use of advanced organizers in the learning and retention of 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, D.P (1976) Educational Psychology. Una perspectiva cognitiva. Ed. Trillas. Mexico.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)