Robert Gagne is a well-known educational psychologist who developed a theory of instructional design that is widely recognized in both education and cognitive sciences literature. There are two major parts of the theory. First, Gagne explains, soundly designed educational experiences should reflect clear decisions about what you want the students to know and to be able to do. Delineating the types of goals (verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, attitudes, and motor skills) students should achieve is a crucial component of designing an educational experience (Gagné, Briggs, & Wager, 1992).
Second, soundly designed educational experiences include ways to establish what students already know and are able to do by offering multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge. Students will learn more effectively, Gagne contends, with the right instructional events in the right sequence (Gagne, et al., 1992).
Gagne describes instructional events as actions teachers and students take during the educational experience. Gagne identified 9 of these events as crucial to the design of pedagogically sound educational experiences (Gagne, et al., 1992). In this short blog post, I briefly explain each of the events and give examples of how to include each event in your course.
Event 1: Gaining Attention
When putting together your course, it is important to think about how you will pique students’ curiosity and hook them into the module or lesson.
- Begin lesson with a story or an intriguing fact.
- Begin with a visual or sound.
Event 2: Informing Students of the Objectives
When learners know what to expect from the course and from each module, there tends to be an increase in their motivation and they tend to be clear on what type of work and participation is expected of them.
- List weekly objectives in each module.
Event 3: Stimulate Recall of Prerequisite Learning
Learning new content is facilitated when you help students draw connections to what they already know and what they have already experienced.
- Begin each module with a short written or video introduction reminding students what they learned last week and introducing them to what they will learn in the current week.
- End each module with a short written or video wrap up reminding students what they learned that week and introducing them to what they will learn next week.
Event 4: Presenting the Stimulus Material
Decide how to present new content in a systematic and engaging manner. If the new content is organized and the students can find it easily, they can devote their energies to learning, as opposed to spending energy locating course content.
- Use multiple ways to explain the same material (video, text).
- Organize material in logical manner.
Event 5: Providing Learning Guidance
When introducing new concepts, break them down into smaller pieces so that they are manageable for students. Offer support to students as they learn each new piece of content, and provide suggestions for students on how they can most strategically learn the content.
- Present a case study in multiple parts, asking students to respond to each part as they learn new content.
Event 6: Eliciting the Performance
Students need a chance to demonstrate their skills and to practice their skills. Providing students with these opportunities allows you and the students to check for understanding through practice and repetition activities.
- Give a quiz.
- Ask students to submit short (1 page) reflection papers in which they summarize what they have learned at the end of each module.
Event 7: Providing Feedback
Make sure students receive prompt feedback from you or their peers as they demonstrate their skills.
- Assign peer review for the short reflection papers.
- Return the short reflection papers quickly, commenting on what content students have mastered and what content they should spend more time on.
Event 8: Assessing the Performance
After giving them multiple opportunities to practice, allow students to perform. Give students a chance to demonstrate their knowledge and skills with no guidance after they have received feedback.
- Assign a final project that allows students to synthesize all of the content they have learned throughout the quarter.
- Allow students to create new content that demonstrates their understanding of the content they learned throughout the quarter.
Event 9: Enhancing Retention and Transfer
Offer students multiple opportunities, in a regular sequence, for practice and review in order to enhance retention.
- Assign the same closing or introductory activity during every module so that students can review or practiced what they have learned.
These are just some examples of how to incorporate Gagne’s theory of instructional design into your course. For more information about the theory or about how to use it in your course, please talk to your learning designer.
Gagné, R. M., Briggs, L. J., & Wager, W. W. (1992). Principles of instructional design (4th ed.). Forth Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.