Gagné’s Theory of Instruction: A Learning Theory

Tausend Talks has covered several topics relating to Instructional Design and the practice of using design methods to create important and effective instruction.  In the next several posts, I will discuss different Learning Theories that are popular in the design of curriculum.

The first learning theory to be discussed is Gagné’s Theory of Instruction, which includes the well-known “Nine Events of Instruction”.

Robert Gagné was one of the first to coin the term “instructional design” as he began research and developed training materials for the military in the 1960s. His instructional design models laid the foundation for other theorists, such as Dick, Carey and Carey (The Dick and Carey Systems Approach Model), and Jerold Kemp (Instructional Design Model).


The Theory of Instruction has three components:

1.)    A Taxonomy of Learning Outcomes

2.)    Conditions of Learning

3.)    Nine Events of Instruction

A Taxonomy of Learning Outcomes defines how learning might be demonstrated and is broken down into three sub-components- Cognitive Domain, Affective Domain, and Psycho-motor Domain.

The Cognitive Domain has multilevel steps that students can use to demonstrate their learning. They are-

  • Stating Verbal Information
  • Label or Classify Concepts to demonstrate intellectual skills
  • Apply Rule and Principles to demonstrate intellectual skills
  • Problem solve and generate solutions to demonstrate intellectual skills
  • Use Cognitive Strategies for learning

The Affective Domain shows a learning outcome in which learners address their attitudes by demonstrating preferred options.

And the final sub-component of Gagné’s Taxonomy of Learning Outcomes, Psycho-motor Domain shows a learning outcome in which learners show motor skills through physical performance.

The second component of Gagné’s Theory of Instruction are the Conditions of Learning.The Conditions of Learning are the required states needed of the learner to acquire new skills. They can be internal states or personal requirements of the learner, such as self-motivation. They are also the external conditions learning such as environmental stimuli that support the internal learning process, such as a quiet, well-lit classroom setting or having the necessary tools available.

The third and final component of Gagné’s Theory of Instruction is the Nine Events of Instruction.

Gagné believe that learning occurs in a series of events. The learning events must be organized in a hierarchy of complexity and must correspond with deliberate instruction. The significance of the hierarchy is to identify prerequisites that need to be completed at each level. Each learning objective must be accomplished before effective learning of the next outcome can begin. Essentially- you must learn how to speak before you can sing.

The Nine Events of Instruction, in order of Gagné’s hierarchical structure:

  1. Gaining attention: Before the learners can start to process any new information, the instructor must gain the attention of the learners.
  2. Informing learners of objectives: The instructor tells the learner what they will be able to accomplish because of the instruction.
  3. Stimulating recall of prior learning: A recall of existing relevant knowledge.
  4. Presenting the stimulus: The content is presented.
  5. Providing learning guidance: Understanding and encoding begins because the instructor presents the content with an emphasis on organization and relevance.
  6. Eliciting performance: Learners are asked to demonstrate learning.
  7. Providing feedback: The instructor gives informative feedback on the learners’ performance.
  8. Assessing performance: Additional learner performance is required and feedback is given again to reinforce learning.
  9. Enhancing retention and transfer: The learner applies the instruction to practical applications to show capabilities.

As an instructor and instructional designer, it’s important to understand how instruction and learning objectives can be deliberately designed for effective learning. It is evident that the Theory of Instruction provides relevant and useful information for doing just that. Stay tuned for a discussion on other Learning Theorists and their models.


About Julie Tausend Burba

Instructional Designer at Hulu, Ed Tech and Project Management enthusiast. MBA Technology Management, MS Management, BS Communications, Traveler and Cook.

Posted on May 6, 2013, in Instructional Design, Tausend Talks Shop, Teaching Tools and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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