Meaningful learning: The essential factor for conceptual change in limited or inappropriate propositional hierarchies leading to empowerment of learners


  • Joseph D. Novak

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Education, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA, Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, University of West Florida, FL, USA
    • Department of Education, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA, Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, University of West Florida, FL, USA
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  • First presented as the opening lecture of the Third International Seminar on Misconceptions and Educational Strategies in Science and Mathematics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, August 1, 1993. Modified and presented at the International Seminar, Lisbon, Portugal, September 2000. And an earlier version appeared in Gonzales, F. G., Moron, C., and Novak, J. D. (2001) Errors Conceptuales: Diagnosis, Tratamiento y Reflexiones. Pamplona: Ediciones Eunate.


The construction and reconstruction of meanings by learners requires that they actively seek to integrate new knowledge with knowledge already in their cognitive structure. Ausubel's assimilation theory of cognitive learning has been shown to be effective in guiding research and instructional design to facilitate meaningful learning (Ausubel, The psychology of meaningful verbal learning, New York: Grune and Stratton, 1963; Educational psychology: A cognitive view, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968; The acquisition and retention of knowledge, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2000). Gowin's Vee heuristic has been employed effectively to aid teachers and students in understanding the constructed nature of knowledge (Gowin, Educating, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981). “Situated learning” occurs when learning is by rote or at a lower level of meaningful learning. Concept mapping has been used effectively to aid meaningful learning with resulting modification of student's knowledge structures. When these knowledge structures are limited or faulty in some way, they may be referred to as Limited or Inappropriate Propositional Hierarchies (LIPH's). Conceptual change, or more accurately conceptual reconstrution, requires meaningful learning to modify LIPH's. Collaborative group learning facilitates meaningful learning and new knowledge construction. World-wide economic changes are forcing major changes in business and industry placing a premium on the power and value of knowledge and new knowledge production. These changes require changes in school and university education that centers on the nature and power of meaningful learning. New computer tools are available to facilitate teaching activities targeted at modifying LIPH's, and aiding meaningful learning in general. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed86:548–571, 2002; Published online in Wiley Interscience ( DOI 10.1002/sce.10032