Learning and Communication Theories in Instructional Technology

Dr. Mimi Recker

Meaningful Reception Learning Theory

Ausubel's Meaningful Reception Theory is concerned with how students learn large amounts of meaningful material from verbal/textual presentations in a school setting. Ausubel proposed that learning is based upon the kinds of superordinate, representational, and combinatorial processes that occur during the reception of information. A primary process in learning is subsumption in which new material is related to relevant ideas in the existing cognitive structure on a non-verbatim basis. Meaningful learning results when new information is acquired by linking the new information in the learner's own cognitive structure.

A major instructional mechanism proposed by Ausubel is the use of advance organizers. Ausubel emphasizes that advance organizers are different from overviews and summaries which simply emphasize key ideas and are presented at the same level of abstraction and generality as the rest to the material. Organizers help to link new learning material with existing related ideas.

Ausubel indicates that his theory applies only to reception (expository) learning in school settings. He distinguishes reception learning from rote and discovery learning. Rote learning does not involve subsumption and discovery learning requires the learner to discover information through problem solving.

Ausubel believed that children have a natural tendency to organize information into a meaningful whole. Children should first learn a general concept and then move toward specifics.

Principles of Ausubel's Meaningful Reception Learning Theory within a classroom setting include:

  1. The most general ideas of a subject should be presented first and then progressively differentiated in terms of detail and specificity.
  2. Instructional materials should attempt to integrate new material with previously presented information through comparisons and cross-referencing of new and old ideas.
  3. Instructors should incorporate advance organizers when teaching a new concept.
  4. Instructors should use a number of examples and focus on both similarities and differences.
  5. Classroom application of Ausubel's theory should discourage rote learning of materials that can be learned more meaningfully.
  6. The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows.

Ausubel Bibliography


Last Updated on March 3, 2011

Interested in a Degree?

Utah State University offers an online masters degree program (MS & MEd) in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences. Click below to find out more.