Robert Mills Gagné is one of the most prominent learning theorists of our time. Gagné's theoretical framework addresses all aspects of learning, specifically focusing on intellectual and cognitive skills. Gagné’s framework is broad in scope and has been utilized in a wide range of learning environments and tools.

Gagné's original work gave special attention to instruction in the military training.[1] In the 1980s, he turned his attention to instructional technology.[2] It has been applied to the design of instruction in all domains.[3]

Principles of Learning


Gagné's Theory of Instruction.[4] (Click graphic for full-sized chart.)

Gagné’s principles of learning set the foundation for his instructional process. They include:

  1. Different instruction is required for different learning outcomes.
  2. Events of learning operate on the learner in ways that constitute the conditions of learning.
  3. The specific operations that constitute instructional events are different for each different type of learning outcome.
  4. Learning hierarchies define what intellectual skills are to be learned and a sequence of instruction.

Gagné identified four phases of instruction (1-4) and nine events of instructions (a-i) that are essential for successful learning and knowledge retention. [5]These steps should satisfy or provide the necessary conditions for learning and serve as the basis for designing instruction and selecting appropriate media. [6]

1. Preparation (the student is prepared to learn)

a. Getting the learner’s attention (reception)
b. Stimulating recall of prior learning (retrieval)
c. Describing the expected outcome of the learning experience (expectancy)

2. Presentation (the student is presented with the material to be learned)

d. Providing a context for the instruction (selective perception)
e. Delivering instruction and providing guidance (semantic encoding)

3. Performance (the student engages with the material and is provided with feedback on their performance through informal assessment)

f. Eliciting performance of the material (responding)
g. Providing feedback on the performance (reinforcement)

4. Validation (the student’s performance is formally assessed to determine the effectiveness of the learning experience)

h. Assessing performance (retrieval)
i. Encouraging retention and transfer (generalization)

Levels of Learning

Gagne identified five different types (levels) of learning, each of which require different types of instruction:

Verbal information: Stating previously learned materials such as facts, concepts, principles, and procedures
Intellectual skills: The skills most commonly used for problem solving
Cognitive strategies: Employing personal ways to guide learning, thinking, acting, and feeling
Motor skills: Executing performances involving the muscles
Attitudes: Choosing personal actions based on internal states of understanding and feeling

Gagné further suggests a hierarchy of complexity for intellectual skills that provides a basis for the sequencing of instruction. The hierarchical structure is listed from lowest to highest, which each step needing to be mastered before taking the next. As many higher order functions require prerequisite skills, Gagné's theory suggests that learning will be enhanced by the appropriate sequencing of instruction.

  1. Stimulus recognition
  2. Response generation
  3. Procedure following
  4. Use of terminology
  5. Discriminations
  6. Concept formation
  7. Rule application
  8. Problem solving

Comparing Learning Theories

Behaviorist Cognitivist Constructivist
Theory Emphasize changes in behavior that result from stimulus-response associations made by the learner Attempts to explain human behavior by understanding the thought processes Based on experiential learning through real life experience to construct and conditionalize knowledge
Learning theorist(s) Ivan Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, & Robert M. Gagné Jean Piaget and David Ausubel John Dewey, Maria Montessori and David Kolb
Summary Behaviorism is a worldview that operates on a principle of “stimulus-response.” All behavior caused by external stimuli (operant conditioning). All behavior can be explained without the need to consider internal mental states or consciousness. Behavior is shaped through positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement. Both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement increase the probability that the antecedent behavior will happen again.[7] Learning is a behavioral change based on the acquisition of information about the environment. Cognitive theory looks at how information travels from the sensory memory to the working memory to the long-term memory. The mind works like a computer. This theory focuses on gaining and maintaining the learner’s attention. After the learner’s attention is gained, then rehearsal and visuals are used to move the information in the memories.[8] Worldview posits that learning is an active,constructive process. The learner is an information constructor. People actively construct or create their own subjective representations of objective reality. New information is linked to to prior knowledge, thus mental representations are subjective. Each person has a different interpretation and construction of knowledge process. The learner is not a blank slate (tabularasa) but brings past experiences and cultural factors to a situation.[9]
Role technology plays in implementing into the classroom Learning is teacher focused, and learning is directed, structured, and systematic. Technology applications consists of drills and practice tutorials where the increased frequency of correctly answering questions are in response to a stimuli. These tools are used to help students memorize important basic information. Uses tools that allow students to acquire skills as quickly and efficiently as possible. Artificial Intelligence programs were developed to attempt to simulate the thinking and learning behaviors of humans. Softwares available are designed to help students encode and store learned information into long-term memory. Teacher led activities are required to accomplish events before and after software use. Teachers set objectives then develop a sequence of events in which technology is used to carry out part of the instructional sequence. Focus on learning in inquiry based environments using web-based technologies and multi-media productions. Programs that allow the learner to see abstract concepts used in real world applications should be used such as simulations and experiments.Teachers should create lessons that require learners to collaborate with others through the use of technology applications and programs.

Using Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction to Teach Poetic Rhythm and Meter

Lesson One

  1. Gain attention: The teacher greets students at the door, and as each student enters, she recites his or her name by putting extra emphasis on the stressed syllable: “DER ek,” “SUS an,” “STEPH a nie,” “re NEE,” “yo LAN da."
  2. Identify objective: The teacher states: “Today we are going to begin discussing how to identify rhythm and meter in poetry. We will first discuss rhythm and create examples of poetic rhythms using our names, and then we will discuss meter, and present examples of different meters by arranging ourselves at the front of the classroom according to our names.”
  3. Recall Prior: The teacher asks students to explain what a syllable is, and to explain how they know which syllable in a word is stressed.
  4. Present stimulus: The teacher will call out various words and have students identify, verbally, the number of syllables in each word. Then have students decided which syllable should receive the stress.
  5. Guide learning: On the board, the teacher will write her name, broken into syllables, and then place a “long” mark (macron) over the stressed syllable, and a “short” mark (breve) over the unstressed syllable or syllables.
  6. Elicit performance: The teacher asks students to follow her example and write their own names on paper, breaking the name into syllables, and placing the appropriate mark over each syllable.
  7. Provide feedback: As students complete the task, the teacher will move around the room and recite the name as it is written on the student’s paper. Students will be able to hear the incorrect pronunciation of their names if they did not properly emphasize each syllable.
  8. Assess performance: The teacher will place a check mark on the correct papers, and orally remediate for those who did not write their names correctly, by saying the name how it is written on the sheet, and then saying it correctly until the student hears the difference. The class members are allowed to respond as well.
  9. Enhance retention/transfer: When everyone has the correct pronunciation of his or her name, the teacher will write a short sentence on the board (specifically in iambic pentameter), and ask students to identify all of the short and long syllables. The teacher will place the appropriate mark over each syllable as students respond correctly. After this has been done a number of times, the teacher will ask students if they can identify a pattern of short and long syllables.

Lesson Two

  1. Gain attention: The teacher greets students at the door in the same manner as in the prior lesson.
  2. Identify objective: The teacher explains that today students will recognize patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables in order to identify rhythm.
  3. Recall Prior:  The teacher will ask students to retrieve their “name cards” that they made in the prior lesson, and allow students to tape or attach the names cards to the fronts of their shirts.
  4. Present Stimulus: The teacher will read several names out loud in order to create a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.
  5. Guide Learning:  The teacher will select two or three students to stand in the front of the room, whose names form a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables:  “ROB ert, JEN ny, DAV id.”
  6. Elicit performance: The teacher will ask students to form a line in front of the class, consisting of three to five students, and arrange themselves so that their names form a pattern.
  7. Provide feedback: The teacher will ask students to recite their names in order of how they arranged themselves, to emphasize the pattern.
  8. Assess performance: The teacher will read the names aloud to confirm whether students have completed the task correctly.
  9. Enhance retention/Transfer: The teacher will allow students to rearrange themselves, or to switch people to create a pattern.This lesson process continues for three more consecutive class periods as the teacher continues to utilize Gagné’s nine events of instruction as students learn the names of various rhythms, or patterns (iambic, trochaic, anapestic, dactylic, and spondaic), and can identify the rhythms and meters (how many times the pattern repeats) of given examples.


This lesson process continues for three more consecutive class periods as the teacher continues to utilize Gagné’s nine events of instruction as students learn the names of various rhythms, or patterns (iambic, trochaic, anapestic, dactylic, and spondaic), and can identify the rhythms and meters (how many times the pattern repeats) of given examples.


  1. Gagné, R. (1962). Military training and principles of learning. American Psychologist, 17, 263-276.
  2. Gagné, R. (1987). Instructional technology foundations. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.
  3. Gagné, R. & Driscoll, M. (1988). Essentials of learning for instruction (2nd Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  4. Driscoll, M. P. (2000). Psychology of learning for instruction. London: Prentice Hall.
  5. Gagné, R. & Medsker, K. L. (1996). The conditions of learning: Training applications. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
  6. Gagné, R., Briggs, L. & Wager, W. (1992). Principles of instructional design (4th Ed.). Fort Worth, TX: HBJ College Publishers.
  7. Roblyer, M.d. & Doening A.H. (2010) Integrating educational technology into teaching (5th edition). Boston MA: Ally & Bacon.
  8. Vygotsky, L.S. (1986). Thought and Language. (A. Kozulin, Trans.). Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.
  9. Barbour, M., & Rich, P. (2007). Social constructivist eLearning: A case study. International Electronic Journal for Leadership in Learning, 11 (39), 22. Retrieved March 27, 2014, from Educational Research Complete database.

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