Sunday, 31 July 2011

David Ausubel, M.D. [Meaningful Verbal Learning and Subsumption Theory

David Ausubel was an American psychologist who did his undergraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania (pre-med and psychology). He graduated from medical school at Middlesex University. Later he earned a Ph.D in Developmental Psychology at Columbia University. He was influenced by the work of Piaget. He served on the faculty at several universities and retired from academic life in 1973 and began his practice in psychiatry. Dr. Ausubel published several textbooks in developmental and educational psychology, and more than 150 journal articles. He was awarded the Thorndike Award for "Distinguished Psychological Contributions to Education" by the American Psychological Association (1976).
Ausubel, whose theories are particularly relevant for educators, considered neo-behaviorist views inadequate. Although he recognized other forms of learning, his work focused on verbal learning. He dealt with the nature of meaning, and believes the external world acquires meaning only as it is converted into the content of consciousness by the learner.
Meaningful Verbal Learning
Meaning is created through some form of representational equivalence between language (symbols) and mental context. Two processes are involved:
1.       Reception, which is employed in meaningful verbal learning, and
2.       Discovery, which is involved in concept formation and problem solving.
Ausubel's work has frequently been compared with Bruner's. The two held similar views about the hierarchical nature of knowledge, but Bruner was strongly oriented toward discovery processes, where Ausubel gave more emphasis to the verbal learning methods of speech, reading and writing.

Subsumption Theory
To subsume is to incorporate new material into one's cognitive structures. From Ausubel's perspective, this is the meaning of learning. When information is subsumed into the learner's cognitive structure it is organized hierarchically. New material can be subsumed in two different ways, and for both of these, no meaningful learning takes place unless a stable cognitive structure exists. This existing structure provides a framework into which the new learning is related, hierarchically, to the previous information or concepts in the individual's cognitive structure.
When one encounters completely new unfamiliar material, then rote learning, as opposed to meaningful learning, takes place. This rote learning may eventually contribute to the construction of a new cognitive structure which can later be used in meaningful learning. The two types of subsumption are:

1.       Correlative subsumption - new material is an extension or elaboration of what is already known.
2.       Derivative subsumption - new material or relationships can be derived from the existing structure.

Information can be moved in the hierarchy, or linked to other concepts or information to create new interpretations or meaning. From this type of subsumption, completely new concepts can emerge, and previous concepts can be changed or expanded to include more of the previously existing information. This is "figuring out".
Ausubel is a proponent of didactic, expository teaching methods. From this perspective, expository (verbal) learning approaches encourage rapid learning and retention, whereas discovery learning (Bruner) facilitates transfer to other contexts.
Advanced Organizers
Ausubel contributed much to the theoretical body of cognitive learning theory, but not as much to the practical classroom aspects as Bruner and others. Ausubel's most notable contribution for classroom application was the advance organizer.
The advance organizer is a tool or a mental learning aid to help students `integrate new information with their existing knowledge, leading to "meaningful learning" as opposed to rote memorization. It is a means of preparing the learner's cognitive structure for the learning experience about to take place. It is a device to activate the relevant schema or conceptual patterns so that new information can be more readily `subsumed' into the learner's existing cognitive structures.
Ausubel believed that it was important for teachers to provide a preview of information to be learned. Teachers could do this by providing a brief introduction about the way that information that is going to be presented is structured. This would enable students to start with a "Big Picture" of the upcoming content, and link new ideas, concepts, vocabulary, to existing mental maps of the content area.
Stress is an internal process that occurs when a person is faced with a demand that is perceived to exceed the resources available to effectively respond to it, and where failure to effectively deal with the demand has important and undesirable consequences. Stress is very subjective.  Stress is our unique reaction to events. Stress is defined as "our reaction to events, environmental or internal, that tax or exceed our adaptive resources."  Each of us has a certain number of coping resources, and when those coping resources are challenged or exceeded, stress usually results.  Stress reactions consist of both physical and emotional responses.
Each of us deals with stress in our own unique way.  Stress is not always negative or problematic.  Stress can be a motivator toward change and growth or a cause of impairment.
What are Stressors?
Clinical Training
Physical Stressors  result from internal physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach problems, etc., and external physical stressors, such as heat, cold, excessive noise, etc.
Psychological Stressors  arise from time pressures or the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves or allow to be placed on us by others, such as, "you must be perfect," "you must know everything," or "you must suppress your feelings at all costs."  An irrational belief, for example is "doctors don't get sick with illnesses such as: anxiety, depression, psychiatric disorders." Fatigue and time demands can lead to anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
Familial Stressors  can arise from relationship problems with parents, spouses and children. Medical students face competing time demands for family and education.
Family Problems can tax important resourses like time and money, and often require immediate attention.
Financial Stressors  are common for medical students.  Often medical students do not have the time to have jobs.  Students loans are a burden shared by most medical students.  Medical students face challenges in whether they can make it by with their current funds or must they acquire another student loan.
Spiritual Stressors  arise when basic spiritual values or beliefs are reformulated, called into question, disregarded, or when time constraints impede on spiritual growth or attendance at services.  Neglect of spiritual needs contributes to higher levels of stress and impairment.
Social Stressors  are abundant and can arise in any context where interpersonal relationships exist, like school, work, church, and community.  The loss of contact with friends and family contributes to feelings of loneliness among busy students.  Stress can arise from continued forced contact with individuals with whom you may not share the same values or beliefs.
Academic Stressors  change as the student progresses through school. The first two years, the student faces competition and fear of failure. As the student proceeds into the later years of education, stressors are experienced by the student, such as fears of increasing responsibility, death of patients, fear of infection or bodily harm, and discomfort with discussing sexual issues.
Clinical Stressors  include difficulties in dealing with the chain of command/pecking order common for students.  Coping with hierarchy and the authoritative environment is troubling for students.
"One student compares medical training to military training. She says they both recruit young people full of leadership potential and essentially break their autonomous will through a rigorous hierarchy.  The first two years are boot camp, the last two, during which students are thrown into the hospital wards, are definitely front-line duty."


1. Feeling of physical and emotional exhaustion, due to stress from working with people under difficult or demanding conditions. Burn out is followed by signs such as chronic fatigue, quickness to anger and suspicion, and susceptibility to colds, headaches, and fevers.
2. Extraordinary dilution of an investor's stockholding position due to a massive issue of new shares by the firm. Also called cram down.

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