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Ausubel's Meaningful Learning in Action


American psychologist and psychiatrist David Ausubel is well known for his famous quote:

"The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly" (Ausubel, 1968, vi).

But few know about the richness and importance of his assimilation theory of meaningful learning and retention, which holds many more instruction-altering insights. One of the main reasons why this theory is so important is because it focuses on the end goal teachers are after: teachers dont want students to memorise distinct ideas; teachers want students to develop vast bodies of knowledge in the subjects they are taught. Ausubel explains that the only way to achieve this is through supporting students to learn meaningfully.

This book explores the key elements of the theory and what it means to learn meaningfully. It then links the theory to highly practical implications teachers can use day-to-day in all aspects of their teaching.

Sarah Cottingham is a teacher educator working on improving professional development for teachers and school leaders. She has an MA in Educational Neuroscience from UCL and Birkbeck university. Studying the brain helped deepen Sarahs fascination with how our memories work and how we can best support student learning.

Sarah is the author of Ausubels Meaningful Learning in Action. Ausubels assimilation theory of meaningful learning and retention has added a new dimension to Sarahs understanding of memory: meaningful learning is how students best develop vast bodies of knowledge. Sarah has written this book because she believes that Ausubels theory deserves to reach a far wider audience: it has the power to change how teachers make decisions about curriculum, instruction and assessment to catalyse student learning.

Sarah also writes concise blogs that make complex concepts accessible and practical to teachers. You can read them at

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