Robert Mills Gagné (August 21, 1916 – April 28, 2002) was an educational psychologist who created a nine-step process called the events of instruction.
One of the leading pioneers to a systematic approach in teaching is none other than Robert Gagné. Gagné developed his model after observing the thought processes of adults when they were presented with mental challenges. He focused on how people were able to achieve specific learning goals and created instructional events to help them attain those objectives. His theory is based heavily on how people process information, and has subsequently been applied beyond the field of teaching to engineering, healthcare, and even the military.
See also: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Education
Central to Gagné’s theory are his “conditions of learning”. These consist of both internal and external conditions that affect the student during his or her learning journey. Internal conditions refer to the anterior knowledge that the student has before the topic is presented, and the external conditions refer to the behaviors or stimuli presented by the instructor. An effective teacher must recognize that both internal and external conditions affect learning.
There are two simple steps to implementing Gagné’s theory: stating outcomes and organizing events. First, Gagné theory says to state the desired results. These results can be classified into five different categories: intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, verbal information, attitudes, and motor skills.
Appropriately organizing Gagné’s “Events of Instruction” is the second step in his approach. There are nine instructional events:
- Gaining attention of the students
- Informing the learner of the objective
- Stimulating recall of prior learning
- Presenting the content
- Providing learning guidance
- Eliciting the performance
- Providing feedback
- Assessing the performance
- Enhancing retention and transfer
1. Gaining attention
With many distractions present upon entry to the classroom, it is important to capture their attention immediately. Learning may only take place when students are focused and you have managed to peak their interest. There are many ways to gain their attention:
- A fun fact or prompting question at the beginning of a lesson
- A gesture or loud noise to offer a change in stimulus
- A visual or auditory prompt, such as images or sound effects on PowerPoint Slides
- Questions constructed by students to be answered by peers in the class
2. Informing the learner of the objective
The learning objective is typically shared with students early on in the lesson. This not only helps them achieve the specific expectations related to the learning goal, but also internally motivates them complete each task. There are many ways to outline the learning objectives:
- Draft an example piece that meets expectations
- Co-create success criteria as a class
- Describe specific benchmarks to be met and how they would be measured
- Outline learning goals on evaluations
3. Stimulating recall of prior learning
Learning is a process comprised of many steps where each new piece of information is built upon the last. Prior experiences facilitate the learning process because they allow information to be stored meaningfully. Prompting for prior knowledge can be done in many ways:
- Encourage students to integrate previous knowledge into the activity
- Make connections from earlier topics to the current lesson
- Question students about prior concepts
- Ask students to share any related experiences they have had
4. Presenting the content
After drawing on prior knowledge, the content is then presented to each learner. Information should be presented in various ways in order to meet everyone’s learning style. There are many ways to meaningfully share content with learners:
- Reiterate information through various forms of media (e.g. presentation, video, group project)
- Pique interest by sharing content in different ways (e.g. lecture, podcast)
- Allow students to access information anytime through a digital platform such as Blackboard
- Promote student engagement with active learning strategies
5. Providing learning guidance
The overarching goal of providing learning guidance is to “make the stimulus as meaningful as possible”. Making connections with the topic of study helps learners better retain information. This event also offers examples of correct performance in the form of graphs or case studies. There are many ways to provide learning guidance to students:
- Offer mnemonics, images and analogies – visual tools enable students to recall information more easily
- Brainstorm ideas and co-create a concept map to help students connect to the material
- Scaffold learning by gradually reducing instructor support
- Provide examples of what a correct performance would look like and non-examples of what to avoid during a performance
6. Eliciting the performance (practice)
It is now the learner’s turn to direct the next event by practicing the skill taught. The learner will demonstrate their understanding with a performance, which will further cement their knowledge on the topic. However, the role of the instructor is still valuable. The teacher can support memory retention and initiate learning by:
- Creating effective evaluations – tests and quizzes should include comprehension questions and application opportunities, not just recall or simple memorization.
- Providing mid-point assessment – projects, assignments, and presentations throughout the unit allows you to monitor learning and provide appropriate feedback.
- Directing classroom activities – encourage collaboration, ask thought-provoking questions, and facilitate discussions on a topic.
7. Providing feedback
Feedback is a valuable tool used to keep students on track towards the learning goal. Personal and timely guidance from the instructor allows students to modify their performance in order to meet the objective. Feedback from their peers is also valuable, as it may help answer their questions during the learning process. Instructors may offer feedback in a variety of comment types, a few of which are listed below.
- Confirmatory feedback: provides encouragement and confirms to the student that they are on a course that is likely to result in success. Confirmatory feedback does not provide the next steps for the learner.
- Evaluative feedback: evaluates the precision of the student’s performance. Evaluative feedback also does not provide the next steps to progress.
- Remedial feedback: displays the correctness of a student’s performance. While Remedial feedback prompts students to review their work, it does not provide the correct response.
- Descriptive or analytic feedback: offers suggestions, next steps and where the student needs to improve. Arguably the most valuable of feedback, this is also the most time-consuming as an instructor
- Peer-evaluation and self-evaluation: allows for reflection and analysis. Students are able to identify gaps in their performance and examine the work of their peers. Discussing various responses and exemplars may help students answer their own questions about the topic.
8. Assessing the performance
Assessing student performance is usually demonstrated in the form of a summative assessment; whether the learner is able to meet the objectives without prompting or support. It is important to note that one evaluation alone is not sufficient to determine if a student needs additional practice on some skills or whether the content has been stored in memory. Multiple evaluations may be necessary to determine if the learning goals have been achieved. There are multiple ways to assess student learning:
- Offer students multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding
- Be transparent about learning criteria and attach rubrics to written work and assignments
- Provide feedback in order to guide students towards success (e.g. quiz, oral discussions)
- Place formative assessments throughout learning journey to check for acquisition of skills
9. Enhance retention and transfer
One way to support retention of skills is by practice. This event is often the least favored by students as they find the repetition rather tedious. However, practice is proven to be effective in developing the application of skills as well as increasing the likelihood that the skills will be retained over a long period of time. Limited time in class often means that there are limited opportunities to enhance memory retention as well as practice applying skills taught to new situations. Regardless, there are many ways to enhance retention of skills and transfer knowledge to long-term memory:
- Promote the transformation of information by encouraging students to convert their knowledge to a different format (e.g. from visual to written).
- Promote cross-curricular learning by weaving information from the current topic of study into other course content.
- Build on previous learning by adding in content from prior tests to new evaluations.
- Highlight the objectives by consistently referring back to your learning goals and developing assignments that support achieving these goals.
Gagné offers a systematic learning theory that can be greatly beneficial to teachers. His nine-step model outlines a comprehensive view on lesson plans and brings structure to programming. The nine events do not need to be followed exactly, but can instead be tailored for each topic.
Gagné strongly believed that “organization is the hallmark of effective instructional materials”. As instructors, we want our students to be able to understand the content taught. We aim to ensure that students recall important information and demonstrate a strong performance. It is with a highly structured lesson plan that we can help students achieve the learning goals.
Learning goals and performance criteria should be outlined before implementing Gagné’s nine events of instruction. Gagné’s nine events serve as a structure to help you deliver your objectives while assessing the learning conditions in class. Preparing the framework ahead of time allows each event to be placed in an appropriate place as well as content to be organized in a meaningful way. Gagné’s framework can then be tailored to the topic and the level of understanding of the class itself.