Learning and Communication Theories in Instructional Technology

Dr. Mimi Recker

Meaningful Reception Learning Theory


Read both of the scenarios found below and then answer the questions. Answers may be found following the questions.

Scenario A: Johnny, a three and a half year old boy, is fascinated by the glowing red color of the burners on his parents stove. He has been repeatedly told not to touch the burners on the stove but doesn't seem to care. After having many of his attempts to touch the stove burners thwarted by his parents, Johnny finally succeeds in touching a glowing red burner. His efforts earn him a severely burned finger and some valuable knowledge. "Never touch the burners on a stove, especially when their red."

Scenario B: An eighth grade science class is beginning a new section on astronomy and the solar system. They were instructed to read the chapter specifically dealing with this information outside of class while the teacher begins his/her verbal lectures over the material.


  1. What type of learning is taking place in each scenario?

  2. From scenario (A) we can see that Johnny's parents did an inadequate job of teaching him the dangers of touching a hot burner. What was wrong with their approach? What could they have done better if anything at all?

  3. Which scenario requires a later stage of cognitive develpment? Why?

  4. Do the scenarios take place on a individual basis or do they require outside assistance?

  5. If you were teaching a class about the solar system would you use "Discovery" or "Reception" learning? Why?

  6. Which type of learning do you think Ausubel was more fond of?


  1. For the most part, large bodies of subject matter are acquired through Reception learning, whereas everday problems of living are solved through Discovery learning.

  2. Reception learning, although phenomenologically simpler than discovery learning, paradoxically emerges later developmentally and particularly in its more advanced and pure verbal forms, impling a high level of cognitive maturity.

    Example: Using the above scenario (A), the child does not have to have any knowledge of concepts such as heat or the mechanical warnings of the stove to learn the lesson. On the contrary, in scenario (B), students must have the proper verbal communication abilities to comprehend the information taught by the teacher. (As children, we tend to learn by way of Discovery while as adults we learn through Reception.)

  3. While Reception learning can only take place with outside assistance(teacher), Discovery learning is on a more individual basis.

  4. Reception learning is usually a much more effective way of teaching in a classroom setting than Discovery learning.

    Example: In scenario (B), it would take an incredible amount of time for the students to learn all of the information concerning Astronomy and our solar system if learned through Discovery.

  5. Ausubel believed meaningful reception learning to be the best form of learning in a classroom. In fact, he did very little research concerning Rote or Discovery learning.

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