Robert Gagné's Instructional Design
By Kathy L. Maschke
When Robert Gagné initially published his influential book, The Conditions of Learning (Gagné, 1965), his instructional design theories were heavily rooted in the behaviorist psychology paradigm. However, in later editions of The Conditions of Learning (Gagné, 1970, 1977, 1985), Gagné's theories evolved to incorporate cognitivist psychology theories, specifically the information-processing model of cognition. According to Gagné, "This model posits a number of internal processes that are subject to the influence of a variety of external events. The arrangement of external events to activate and support the internal processes of learning constitutes what is called instruction" (Gagné, 1974).
In the preface to the second edition of The Conditions of Learning, Gagné commented further on this shift to the information-processing model of cognition and it’s influence on his approach to designing instruction. He stated, "I consider this form of learning theory to represent a major advance in the scientific study of human learning" (Gagné, 1977). In 1989, Michael J. Striebel noted, "Instructional design theories such as Gagné's theory, take the cognitivist paradigm one logical step further by claiming that an instruction plan can generate both appropriate environmental stimuli and instructional interactions, and thereby bring about a change in cognitive structures of the learner (Striebel, 1989).
This paper will define and explore the three major aspects of Gagné’s approach to instructional design, which include: nine events of instruction, conditions of learning and learning outcomes. How Gagné’s theory correlates to the Walter Dick and Lou Carey’s systems approach to instructional design will also be considered (Dick and Carey, 1996).
A Seminal MODEL
Gagné’s approach to instructional design is considered a seminal model that has influenced many other design approaches and particularly the Dick & Carey systems approach. Gagné proposed that events of learning and categories of learning outcomes together provide a framework for an account of learning conditions. The diagram below, from the third edition of The Conditions of Learning (Gagné, 1977), illustrates his vision of how the events of learning impact the conditions learning, which ultimately result in the learning outcomes, or learning capabilities.
In The Conditions of Learning, Gagné acknowledges that he was considering the question "What factors really can make a difference to instruction?" when developing his learning and instructional design theories. His model proposed that the conditions of learning—some internal and some external to the learner—that affect the process of learning make up the events of learning. When deliberately planned, those events constitute instruction. "Thus it is reasonable to define instruction as being made up of events external to the learner which are designed to promote learning" (Gagné, 1977).
Events of Learning
Gagné’s model proposed nine events of learning or instruction. These events are specific functions of communication behaviors that he identified as components of instruction. Gagné divided these nine events into two groups: the first five represent communication behaviors that occur before the acquisition of information. The last four occur after acquisition has developed. (Newell, 1970). The nine instructional events are outlined below and applications for group, tutorial, and individual delivery are provided (Gagné, 1974). According to Gagné, the events of instruction are labels that "serve to relate the internal processes to the external events that constitute instruction; that is they provide names for the total set of events (internal and external) that must be considered to take place during each phase of learning" (Gagné, 1974). Gagné’s model recommends these nine events be considered to facilitate and maximize instruction:
Conditions of Learning
In addition to the nine events of instruction, Gagné's instructional design theory proposed eight different conditions or types of learning. As an instructional psychologist, Gagné perceived learning conditions as building blocks for designing instruction. By categorizing each type of learning, the instructional designer is aware that each type of learning can potentially require a different event of instruction to optimize learning. The following chart outlines the eight conditions learning (Gagné, 1977).
Gagné classified learning outcomes into five categories or taxonomies. These represent the variety of capabilities or outcomes that are possible as a result of the learning process. According to Gagné, "One way to make sense of the enormous variety of outcomes learning produces is to consider them as performance categories." The different learning outcomes—or performance categories—"not only differ in the human performances they make possible, they also differ in the conditions most favorable for their learning" (Gagné, 1977). The following table outlines the five categories and provides a definition and example of each (Gagné, 1974, 1977).
SYSTEMS APPROACH TO INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN
Gagné’s learning theories have had a positive influence on the evolution of the systems approach to designing instruction. The continued process of evaluation and revision that Gagné has subjected his instructional design model to has been the key to its ongoing acceptance and success. Dick & Carey's instructional design model stresses and incorporates much of Gagné's model. Their systems approach to instructional design especially relies on Gagné's domains of learning or learning outcomes. According to Dick & Carey, "The first step in conducting a goal analysis is to categorize the goal into one of Gagné’s (1985) domains of learning. Each goal should be classified into one of the domains because of the implications for the goal analysis and to identify the appropriate subordinate skills analysis techniques" (Dick & Carey, 1996). In adopting Gagné’s learning theories, Dick & Carey chose, however, to omit the fifth domain of learning—cognitive strategies—from their model. They felt that "From the instructional design perspective these can be treated like intellectual skills and taught as such" (Dick & Carey, 1996).
Dick & Carey also adopted Gagné’s hierarchical approach to analyzing goals. "The hierarchical analysis technique suggested by Gagné consists of asking the question "What must the student already know so that, with a minimal amount of instruction, this task can be learned? By asking this question, the designer can identify one or more critical subordinate skills that will be required of the learner prior to attempting instruction on the step itself…This hierarchy of skills is helpful to the designer because it can be used to suggest the type of specific subordinate skills that will be required to support any step in the goal" (Dick & Carey, 1996).
Gagné’s learning theories have had an important impact on many instructional design models, and notably on the systems approach developed by Dick & Carey. Additionally, Gagné has revised and refined his instructional design approach to reflect ongoing research and developments in psychology and a shift away from the behaviorist paradigm. Consequently his model has evolved to incorporate cognitivist learning theories and the most significantly the information-processing model of cognition. Gagné's instructional design approach has endured in its evolution as a seminal model in the field of instructional technology.
Dick, W. & Carey, L. (1996). The systematic design of instruction. (4th ed.). New York: Harper Collins College Publishers.
Gagné, R. M. (1974). Essentials of learning for instruction. (2nd ed.). Hinsdale, IL: The Dryden Press.
Newell, J.M. (1970). Student's guide to the conditions of learning. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Gagné, R. M. (1977). The conditions of learning. (4nd ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Inc.
Streibel, M. (1995). Instructional plans and situationed learning. In G.J. Anglin (Ed.), Instructional technology: Past, present, future (2nd ed). (pp. 145-160). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.