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A brief guide to Gagné's 9 Events of Instruction

A brief guide to Gagné’s 9 Events of Instruction

5 min read
  • The science of learning

Robert Gagné is a name that should truly stands out when it comes to thinking about the way we learn. Back in the 1940s, he made groundbreaking contributions that have helped shape the field of educational psychology. He suggests 9 ‘events’ of instruction.

Gagné suggested that learning something new can be broken down into nine stages. He suggests that if educators move through the stages chronologically then learners will become more engaged in the learning process and better retain the information taught.

So, let’s take a closer look at each of Gagné’s nine Events of Instruction, the role they play in learning, and what they can look like in your classroom…

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1. Reception – Gaining attention

    Capturing students’ attention is crucial for creating an engaging and effective learning environment. With the ever-growing distractions that students face today, it is essential to grab their attention right from the start. By doing so, you can create a foundation for meaningful learning experiences.

    Try gaining your students’ attention by:

    • Sharing a fun fact or prompting question – Begin your lessons with an intriguing fact or thought-provoking question. This sparks curiosity and stimulates students’ desire to explore and learn more. By presenting information that is both interesting and relevant to the topic at hand, you can pique their interest and encourage active participation from the outset.
    • Using visual or auditory prompts – Utilise visual aids or auditory stimuli to create an immersive learning environment that captures students’ interest. You can do this by incorporating images, videos, or sound effects into your presentation or teaching materials – but be mindful that if these elements are irrelevant to the learning at hand, they may create a Split Attention Effect.

    2. Expectancy – Informing the learner of the objective

      The second stage of Gagné’s framework is to inform students about the learning objectives. By doing this right from the start, you can provide a clear direction and purpose for the lesson. This not only helps them understand what is expected of them, but also serves as a powerful internal motivator, driving their engagement and commitment through the learning process.

      You can outline the learning objective by:

      • Drafting an example piece that meets expectations – Providing a sample or model piece that aligned with the learning objective gives students a concrete understanding of the desired outcome. It demonstrates the quality, structure and content they should strive for in their own work.
      • Describing specific benchmarks to meet and how you will measure them – Clearly outlining the specific goals that students need to reach provides them with a roadmap for success. By breaking down the learning objective into measurable components, educators can guide students step by step and offer clarity on what they should accomplish at each stage.

      3. Retrieval – Stimulating recall of prior learning

        Recognising that learning is a continuous process, where new knowledge is built upon prior experiences, allows you to leverage existing knowledge as a foundation for further learning. Prompting students to engage with their prior knowledge can ultimately facilitate meaningful connections and enhance the learning experience.

        You can facilitate stimulating recall of prior knowledge by:

        • Encouraging students to integrate previous knowledge into the activity – Encouraging students to reflect on their prior knowledge and integrate it into the current activity helps them make connections between new and existing information.
        • Questioning students about prior concepts – Engaging students in reflective questioning about previously-learned concepts prompts them to retrieve and activate their prior knowledge. As an added bonus, this strategy allows educators to identify any misconceptions that may need clarification and address them early on.

        4. Selective perception – Presenting the content

          Once you have tapped into students’ attention and prior knowledge, the next stage is to present the content to each learner. One way to do this is to use a range of different methods. This could include a mix of traditional presentations, interactive discussions, or engaging videos.

          5. Semantic encoding – Providing learning guidance

            Helping students develop effective learning strategies and informing them about available resources is crucial. In essence, this stage is about helping students learn how to learn. You may want to consider:

            • Modelling varied learning strategies – Demonstrating varied learning strategies, such as these nine ways to use Retrieval Practice, allows students to explore different, more efficient approaches to developing their knowledge than the usual student-favourites.
            • Providing instructional support – It is essential to offer instructional support to students. You can do this by scaffolding, which is when offer more assistance to novice learners and gradually reduce it as students master the content. This will help your students navigate content by breaking them down into manageable steps.

            6. Responding – Eliciting performance

              Now, it’s your students’ turn to take charge and put their newly acquired skills into practice. This is when students will apply what they have learned to strengthen new knowledge and to confirm that they have the correct understanding of concepts. You can do this by making them complete carefully curated quizzes that require analysis, critical thinking, and problem-solving.

              7. Reinforcement – Providing feedback

                Providing feedback is an invaluable tool for guiding students towards achieving their learning goals. Personalised and timely guidance from you will motivate students to make necessary adjustments to their performance in order to meet the desired objectives.

                You can offer feedback in a few ways:

                • Evaluative feedback – Informs students about the accuracy of their performance.
                • Remedial feedback – Guides students to find the correct answer without providing it directly.
                • Descriptive or analytic feedback – Offers suggestions, next steps, and suggestions to improve performance.

                8. Retrieval – Assessing performance

                  Assessing student performance is a critical component of the learning process, as it helps determine whether learners have achieved the desired objectives without prompting or support.

                  It’s important to recognise that a single evaluation may not provide a comprehensive understanding of a student’s mastery of skills or knowledge retention. Therefore, you may want to consider implementing a variety of assessment methods to allow your students to showcase their understanding through different channels. This may include written assignments, projects, presentations, or traditional tests.

                  9. Generalisation – Enhancing retention and transfer

                    An essential way to support retention of skills is through practice. This means that you can help your students retain more information by providing them with opportunities to establish connections between course concepts and real-world applications.

                    You can do this by:

                    • Linking course content ­– Encourage learners to associate course concepts with prior and future knowledge. By highlighting the relationships between different concepts, learners can build upon their existing understanding and reinforce connections. This can strengthen their overall comprehension and retention of material.
                    • Engaging in format conversion activities ­– Encourage students to convert information learned in one format into another format. For example, ask learners to create concept maps that visually represent the connections between ideas or have them explain course concepts verbally. This process will help students actively process and internalise the information, leading to deeper understanding and improved retention.

                    Final thoughts

                    Gagné’s nine Events of Instruction provide a valuable framework for understanding the process of learning and designing effective instructional strategies. They are by no means the only steps one needs to go through in order to learn, but certainly offer good food for thought as to what that might look like. By recognising that learning is a multi-step process and better understanding each of these steps, you can guide learners through build a solid foundation for acquiring and retaining knowledge.

                    About the editor

                    Bradley Busch

                    Bradley Busch

                    Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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