Instructional Design Models and Theories: Subsumption Theory

Instructional Design Models and Theories Subsumption Theory
Summary: The Subsumption Learning Theory was developed in 1963 by the American psychologist David Ausubel. The theory focuses on how individuals acquire and learn large chunks of information through visual means or text materials.

The Quintessential of Subsumption Theory

As opposed to many other instructional theories, which are psychology-based models applied to instructional design, the Subsumption Theory was originally developed exclusively for instructional design. It prescribes a way of creating instructional material that helps learners organize their content in order to make it meaningful for transfer. The goal here is for learners to have the necessary background that will help them solve any problem and also retain this knowledge.

According to the concept set forth by Ausubel, the acquisition of knowledge is based on the actual processes that occur during learning. The key process that takes place in the learner's brain is subsumption, wherein new content is related to relative ideas that are already present in the existing cognitive structure on a non-verbatim basis. Cognitive structures are what’s left in the human brain from all the learning experiences, after forgetting inevitably occurs. So, when some details, facts or situations lose their individual nature, they are then integrated into a general notion.

The 2 Types of Subsumption Theory

  1. Correlative Subsumption
    The new material is an extension of the already grasped knowledge.
  2. Derivative Subsumption
    The new material derives from the existing structure, and can be linked to other concepts or lead to new interpretations.

The 4 Key Principles of Subsumption Theory

The key principles of the Subsumption Learning Theory are the following:

  1. Learners should be presented with the most general concepts first, and then their analysis.
  2. The instructional materials should include new, as well as previously acquired information. Comparisons between new and old concepts are crucial.
  3. Existing cognitive structures should not be developed, but merely reorganized within the learners’ memory.
  4. The role of the instructor is to bridge the gap between what’s already known and what is about to be learned.
The 4 Types of Advanced Organizers

Advanced Organizers –that should always be given prior instruction- can be divided into the following 4 types:

  1. Expository Organizers that provide a description of new knowledge.
  2. Narrative Organizers that present the new information in a story format.
  3. Skimming Organizers that flick through the information.
  4. Graphic Organizers that include pictographs, descriptive or conceptual patterns and concept maps.
The Benefits Of Advanced Organizers

Advanced Organizers are valuable tools that mentally help learners learn and retain knowledge, enabling them to combine new with already known information. This leads to the so called “meaningful learning”, which is the complete opposite of the “parrot-like” technique of memorization. Thus, this tool prepares the cognitive structure of learners for the learning session which is about to occur, through schemas and conceptual patterns, so that new information can be seamlessly subsumed into the existing cognitive structures.

If instructors provide a brief description or a preview of the information which is about to be learned, learners will be able to start with the big picture of things and then link new ideas, theories, and concepts to existing mental maps of the related field.
Today, Ausubel’s theory is not particularly popular, because many educators believe that it promotes a fairly passive role for learners, who mainly receive verbal instruction that doesn’t require any struggle and engagement on their behalf.

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