Ausubel's* Assimilation Learning Theory
When Ausubel's work came to my attention in the early 1960s, the emphasis on the role of concepts in meaningful learning appealed to me; but it took more than 3 years and six seminars in which Ausubel's work was emphasized before I began to feel comfortable interpreting his theory to others. His work began to make real sense after a 5-day conference1 on concept learning in 1965 at which I had extensive opportunity to talk privately with him. A sabbatical leave during 1965 and 1966 at Harvard University offered opportunities to study and analyze the work of Jerome Bruner and others. These experiences, and particularly the new interpretations that my students and I were seeing in our research data, led to a growing conviction that Ausubel's learning theory, especially as presented in his 1968 book, was a powerful model of learning to guide education.
David Ausubel first introduced his theory of Meaningful Learning in 1962 under the title, A Subsumption Theory of Meaningful Learning and Retention. In 1963, he published The Psychology of Meaningful Verbal Learning, elaborating on the ideas presented earlier. Finally in 1968, a more comprehensive view of his ideas was published in Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View ( Ausubel, 1968).
It should be remembered that the late 1930s to the early 1960s when Ausubel was formulating his ideas was also the heyday of behavioral psychology. Not only in the field of psychology in general, but also in educational psychology, behaviorism was the overwhelmingly dominant paradigm, and, along with it, positivistic
* Some of the ideas expressed in this chapter represent my views on Ausubel's theory. The description in this and subsequent chapters more closely follows that in a description of assimilation theory of cognitive learning to be found in the second edition of his Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View ( Ausubel, Novak, & Hanesian, 1978). See also Novak ( 1994).____________________