Robert Gagné and instructional design

Gagné was one of the first educational psychologists to tap the secret of the science of instruction. His work during World War II focused on how to better train pilots in the Army Air Corps. He developed a series of studies and works that simplified and explained what he and others believed to be good instruction. Although the original formulation of the theory had military training settings as its point of departure, the theory has been applied to the design of instruction in all fields.

Five types of learning

Gagné identifies five types or categories of learning. According to his theory, each type of learning requires different types of instruction.

  1. Intellectual skills
  2. Cognitive strategies
  3. Verbal information
  4. Motor skills
  5. Attitudes

These learning types can be thought of as goals and remind one of Bloom’s domains of learning, namely the cognitive domain, affective domain, and psychomotor domain. Gagné however goes further to suggest that the above categories require different ways or methods of instruction.

Ways of learning

These are the ways of instruction that Gagné believes go with the different types of learning:

  1. Signal Learning: A general response to a signal. Like a dog responding to a command.
  2. Stimulus-Response Learning: A precise response to a distinct stimulus.
  3. Chaining: A chain of two or more stimulus-response connections is acquired.
  4. Verbal Association: The learning of chains that are verbal.
  5. Discrimination Learning: The ability to make different responses to similar-appearing stimuli.
  6. Concept Learning: A common response to a class of stimuli.
  7. Rule Learning. Learning a chain of two or more concepts.
  8. Problem Solving. A kind of learning that requires “thinking.”

Designing and delivering instruction

In order to plan instruction, eight steps are proposed:

  1. Identify the types of learning outcomes. Each outcome may have prerequisite knowledge or skills that must be identified.
  2. Identify the internal conditions or processes the learner must have to achieve the outcomes.
  3. Identify the external conditions or instruction needed to achieve the outcomes.
  4. Specify the learning context.
  5. Record the characteristics of the learners.
  6. Select the media for instruction.
  7. Plan to motivate the learners.
  8. Test the instruction with learners in the form of formative evaluation.
  9. After the instruction has been used, summative evaluation is used the judge the effectiveness of the instruction. problem solving.

During the delivery of a lesson Gagné identifies nine events of instruction:

  1. Gain attention: Present stimulus to ensure reception of instruction.
  2. Tell the learners the learning objective: What will the pupil gain from the instruction?
  3. Stimulate recall of prior learning: Ask for recall of existing relevant knowledge.
  4. Present the stimulus: Display the content.
  5. Provide learning guidance
  6. Elicit performance: Learners respond to demonstrate knowledge.
  7. Provide feedback: Give informative feedback on the learner’s performance.
  8. Assess performance: More performance and more feedback, to reinforce information.
  9. Enhance retention and transfer to other contexts


According to Gagné, both summative and formative evaluation must be planned. In addition, distinction must be made between evaluation of instruction and evaluation of learner. While evaluating instruction, one must take into consideration whether the objectives of the course have been achieved, whether the new program is better than the previous one, and what additional effects the new program includes.

The evaluation of the learner, however, is concerned with the effectiveness of the course or program regarding the student’s performance. Taking into account this performance, instruction designers must take measures to adapt the programme to students capabilities.

External links:


Gagne, R. (1985). The Conditions of Learning (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston .

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