PROACTIVE EFFECTS IN MEANINGFUL VERBAL LEARNING AND RETENTION DAVID P. AUSUBEL1 The City University of New York MARY STAGER AND A. J. H. GAITE The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Toronto Contrary to the typical proactive interference finding in rote verbal learning, proactive learning of Buddhism material by Grade 13 students induced neither interference nor facilitation in the meaningful learning and retention of a Zen Buddhism passage. Overlearning of the Buddhism passage also had no significant effect on the meaningful learning and retention of the Zen Buddhism material, and there was no significant interaction between either proactive variable (learning or overlearning) and the length of the retention interval (immediate versus? days).
bility strength of the newly learned meanings and hence determine their availability. Whether previously learned or subsequently encountered meaningfully learned ideas facilitate or inhibit the retention of other meaningfully learned material depends, therefore, on their effects on the stability, clarity, and discriminability of the learning task and of the established ideas in cognitive structure to which the learning task is related. A recent experiment (Ausubel, et al., 1968) supported this theoretical view of meaningful retention, and confirmed the general finding in the literature that the retroactive interpolation of similar material does not inhibit the retention of meaningfully learned material (as opposed to that learned by rote). It was shown that the interpolation of learning material (Buddhism) between the learning of and a test of the retention of a similar, previously learned passage (Zen Buddhism), when both passages were relatively unfamiliar and unestablished, facilitated rather than inhibited the retention of the Zen Buddhism passage. This facilitating effect of the Buddhism passage was attributed to an increase in the stability, clarity, and discriminability of the re1 This study was conducted while the senior membered Zen Buddhism material which author was affiliated with The Ontario Institute it (the Buddhism passage) presumably infor Studies in Education and The University of duced through retroactive rehearsal of the Toronto. Requests for reprints should be sent to: David P. Ausubel, Office of Research and Educa- Zen ideas and comparison of them with tion, 33 West 42 Street, New York City, New corresponding Buddhist ideas. The principal problem in the present York. In attempting to account for the nature of meaningful retention, it has been hypothesized that meaningfully learned materials, that is, materials that have been nonarbitrarily and substantively related (anchored) to relevant established ideas in cognitive structure are protected, by virtue of such anchorage, from the interfering effects of similar previously learned, concurrently experienced, or subsequently encountered associations or ideas (Ausubel 1963; Ausubel, Robbins, & Blake, 1957; Ausubel, Stager, & Gaite, 1968). When material is meaningfully learned, according to this hypothesis, its subsequent availability (retrievability) does not depend on its resistance to interference from other similar associations or ideas, but, rather, on its dissociability from the established ideas in cognitive structure to which it is anchored and in relation to which it acquires its meaning. Thus, much more important for its retention than this kind of interference are such variables as the availability in cognitive structure of proximately and specifically relevant ideas, their stability and clarity, and their discriminability from the learning material. These latter variables affect the dissocia-
D. P. AITSUBEL, M. STAGER, AND A. J. H. GAITE
experiment was to ascertain whether, in accordance with this same theoretical formulation of meaningful learning and retention, similar ideational material introduced proactively (rather...