Do you know everything you need to do to get a memory trail created in your brain? Have you ever stopped to think about the mechanisms involved in learning? Do you think that just by seeing how to bake a cake, ride a bike or recite a poem you would be able to replicate what you have seen? In this article, we will talk about meaningful learning.

A good memory implies a certain amount of repetition of what we see or hear. This is because we only really learn when, after observing how a certain thing is done, we put all our resources into doing it autonomously. For this reason, schools should make use of the potential of active methodologies. With them, students can act as true protagonists instead of just playing the role of receivers of data.

We need children to be the masters of what they learn, to keep alive the flame of creativity and the will to explore, instead of letting them die out little by little as the years go by. We want their curiosity for what they have learned (and for what they can still learn) to have no limits and to dedicate more time and interest to this process.

However, adult life should also not drive away from this curiosity and desire to learn, enrich and extend knowledge more and more. Because we only truly learn when we get involved and when the information we receive attracts us; that is, when our mind records everything that interests us.

Ausubel’s meaningful learning

David Paul Ausubel was an American psychologist and educationalist who belonged to the constructivist movement and focused on designing and organising teaching based on the knowledge that students possessed. Among his theories, the one on significant learning stands out. This is a perspective that takes into account that true knowledge can only be born when new information has meaning in the face of existing knowledge.

A good memory implies a certain amount of repetition of what we see or hear. This is because we only really learn when, after observing how a certain thing is done, we put all our resources into doing it autonomously.
CREDIT: JERRY WANG / UNSPLASH

This means that, for Ausubel, learning is only possible when new learning connects with existing learning. Not so much by similarity, but also because, from this interaction, it is possible to build a new, more enriching meaning.

Thus, Ausubel’s Meaningful Learning Theory includes each and every one of the elements and conditions that ensure the acquisition, assimilation and retention of the content that children receive at school, and that are determining factors in the acquisition of meaning. Therefore, to achieve the feeling of learning, we need two conditions:

  • A predisposition to learn. That is, to feel willing and curious about the information that is being received;
  • That the material is presented according to our cognitive development. This means that there must be memory trails in our mind which allow the new knowledge to be introduced and accommodated in previous structures.

The first point starts from motivation, from interest to feel attracted and excited. We need to be excited to learn and remember, so that what we grasp is not just one more piece of information, but something we want to embrace.

The second condition has to do with anchors, structures that allow us to have a foundation to support and relate subsequent knowledge and thus create a memory trail. Furthermore, in his theory, Ausubel divides knowledge into three types:

  • Subordinate: The new information is included with new examples of a more general term that we already possessed.
  • Superordinate. Information that encompasses other, more specific information that you already have.
  • Coordinate. The new concepts relate on the same level with others that you already know.

I learn, retain, and remember

Ausubel’s perspective leads us to reflect about memoristic learning and its short life span, since memory is lost when it is no longer repeated over time. In this way, meaningful learning seems to have a more solid character because it is not learned by repetition, but by the relationship between concepts and knowledge, which makes it easier to remember.

Meaningful learning happens when we are really prepared, both on a motivational and mental level, to acquire new learning. This is because we only really learn when something catches our attention – when our resources are activated and push us to acquire and integrate something new. Good teachers are characterised by nurturing this desire, getting us excited and attracting our curiosity in a thousand and one different ways.

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