DAVID P. AUSUBEL*
THE PURPOSE OF THIS STUDY IS TO test the hypothesis that the learning and retention of unfamiliar but meaningful verbal material can be facilitated by the advance introduction of relevant subsuming concepts (organizers) . . . . It is reasonable to suppose ( Ausubel, Robbins, & Blake, 1957) that new meaningful material becomes incorporated into cognitive structure in so far as it is subsumable under relevant existing concepts. . . .
In the present study, appropriate and relevant subsuming concepts (organizers) are deliberately introduced prior to the learning of unfamiliar academic material, in order to ascertain whether learning and retention are enhanced thereby in accordance with . . . theoretical premises. . . .
SUBJECTS. The experimental population consisted of 120 senior undergraduate students (78 women and 32 men) in four sections of an educational psychology course at the University of Illinois. All Ss were enrolled in one of eight teacher education curricula at the secondary school level. Students specializing in industrial education and in vocational agriculture were excluded from the study since they had received specific instruction in the topic covered by the learning passage. The experiment was conducted separately in each section as a required laboratory exercise and was performed during regularly scheduled class hours. In order to maximize ego-involvement, Ss were informed that after the data were processed their individual scores, as well as the class results, would be reported to them.
LEARNING PASSAGE AND TEST OF RETENTION. The learning material used in this study was a specially prepared 2,500-word passage1 dealing with the metallurgical properties of plain carbon steel. Emphasis was placed on such basic principles as the relationship between metallic grain structure, on the one hand, and temperature, carbon content, and rate of cooling, on the other. Important factual information (e.g., critical temperatures), however, was also included, and basic principles were also applied to such technological processes as heat treatment and tempering.
The metallurgical topic was chosen on the basis of being generally unfamiliar to undergraduates in liberal arts and sciences (i.e., not ordinarily included in chemistry courses), but still sufficiently elementary to be both comprehensible and interesting to novices with no prior background in the field. The criterion of unfamiliarity was especially crucial because the purpose of the study was to ascertain whether advance organizers could facilitate retention in areas of knowledge new to learners. By using unfamiliar material it was also possible to ensure that all Ss started from approximately the same baseline in learning the material. Empirical proof of unfamiliarity was sought, therefore, by administering the retention test on the steel passage to a comparable group of naive Ss who had not studied the material; but although this latter group of Ss made scores which, on the average, were only slightly and not significantly better than chance, it was evident from later analysis of the experimental data that scores earned by Ss who had studied the passage were related to both sex and field of specialization. Male students and majors in science and art were better able to learn and retain the steel material than were female students and majors in English, foreign languages, music, and the social sciences. Hence, the criterion of unfamiliarity was not completely satisfied, in as much as these differences undoubtedly reflected, in part, variability in relevant incidental experience influencing the learnability of the material.
Knowledge of the steel passage was tested by a 36-item multiple-choice examination with a corrected split-half reliability of .79. Test questions covered principles, facts, and applications, and were selected by an item analysis procedure from a larger population of items. Scores on the test showed a satisfactory range of variability and were distributed normally.____________________
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Publication information: Book title: The Causes of Behavior:Readings in Child Development and Educational Psychology. Contributors: Judy F. Rosenblith - Editor, Wesley Allinsmith - Editor. Publisher: Allyn Bacon. Place of publication: Boston. Publication year: 1962. Page number: 463.
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