Sunday, February 15, 2009



Ausubel proposed four processes by which meaningful learning can occur:

Derivative subsumption.

This describes the situation in which the new information I learn is an instance or example of a concept that I have already learned. So, let's suppose I have acquired a basic concept such as "tree". I know that a tree has a trunk, branches, green leaves, and may have some kind of fruit, and that, when fully grown is likely to be at least 12 feet tall. Now I learn about a kind of tree that I have never seen before, let's say a persimmon tree, that conforms to my previous understanding of tree. My new knowledge of persimmon trees is attached to my concept of tree, without substantially altering that concept in any way. So, an Ausubelian would say thatI had learned about persimmon trees through the process of derivative subsumption.

Correlative subsumption:

Now, let's suppose I encounter a new kind of tree that has red leaves, rather than green. In order to accommodate this new information, I have to alter or extend my concept of tree to include the possibility of red leaves. I have learnedabout this new kind of tree through the process of correlative subsumption. In a sense, you might say that this is more "valuable" learning than that of derivative subsumption, since it enriches the higher-level concept.

Superordinate learning.

Imagine that I was well acquainted with maples, oaks, apple trees, etc., but I did not know, until I was taught, that these were all examples of deciduous trees. In this case, I already knew a lot of examples of the concept, but I did not know the concept itself until it was taught to me. This is superordinate learning.

Combinatorial learning.

The first three learning processes all involve new information that "attaches" to a hierarchy at a level that is either below or above previously acquired knowledge. Combinatorial learning is different; it describes a process by which the new idea is derived from another idea that is neither higher nor lower in the hierarchy, but at the same level (in a different, but related, "branch"). You could think of this as learning by analogy. For example, to teach someone about pollination in plants, you might relate it to previously acquired knowledge of how fish eggs are fertilized.

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