Discovering Instructional Design 16: Gagne and the Events of Instruction

Last time, I looked at the ASSURE instructional design model. This was originally developed by Heinich et al in the 1990’s, and is now popularly and widely-used in both classroom and e-learning environments.

Classic Hits

Old. But good.

Given the ASSURE Model’s constructivist epistemology and successful implementation in early 21st Century educational contexts, you may be surprised to learn that the ASSURE methodology has it’s roots very firmly located the venerable, behaviorist-influenced (and occasionally criticized) Events of Instruction, devised by Robert M. Gagne*. So, before we continue our excursion, travelling into the world of modern, agile, and otherwise non-linear approaches to designing instruction, let’s take a pause and tune that dial to a Classic Hits station, and remember one of our favourites from the 70’s.

Now read on…

According to Kevin Kruse (2006)

Robert Gagne is considered to be the foremost researcher and contributor to the systematic approach to instructional design and training. Gagne and his followers …focus […] on the outcomes – or behaviors – that result from training.

I would assert that familiarity with Gagne’s work, and educators’ drive to continually investigate the New have perhaps led to a certain disregard (in some quarters) for the substantial contribution Gagne made to our discipline. For example, to characterize Gagne as a Behaviorist is, in my view, to underestimate the sophistication of his theories, the elegance of his models, and the relevance of his work today. Indeed, Walter Wager (2004) states that

Gagne didn’t feel that the behaviorist theories were adequate to explain human learning. Rather, Gagne should be considered one of the early cognitive psychologists.


As I have previously indicated, his work still influences theorists and learning practitioners today. During his career, Gagne primarily concerned himself with understanding “the process of learning” (1972, p.1). In his life, he was central to the development of five instructional theories:

  1. the five domains of learning
  2. events of instruction
  3. conditions of learning
  4. role of the media
  5. integrated goal theory (Wager, 2004)

Gagne’s text The Conditions of Learning (first published in 1965) attempted to identify and describe the cognitive processes that occur in learning: the eponymous ‘conditions of learning.’ His philosophy was influenced by the concepts of cognitive mapping, as well as the information processing interpretation of the events that occur when (adult) learners are presented with various stimuli. In The Conditions of Learning, Gagne argued that that internal and external conditions of learning must be created to stimulate the desired learning response.

To understand the sequence of activities needed to support learning, Gagne suggested that tasks for

acquiring the intellectual skills needed should be organized according to complexity.

(Hriko, 2008, p.353)

He argued that information underwent a series of internal processes before being stored in long-term memory; he developed a nine-step process called the Events of Instruction to represent the manifestation of the external factors that influenced the acts associated with the process, which “correlate to and address the conditions of learning” (Hriko, 2008 p.353). Table 1 shows these instructional events in the left column and describes the associated mental processes in the right column.

Table 1. Nine Events of Instruction (after Gagne, 2004)

Instructional Event Internal Mental Process
1. Gain attention Stimuli activates brain’s receptors
2. Inform learners of objectives Creates level of expectation for learning
3. Stimulate recall of prior learning Retrieval and activation of short-term memory
4. Present the content Selective perception of content
5. Provide “learning guidance” Semantic encoding for storage long-term memory
6. Elicit performance (practice) Responds to questions to enhance encoding and verification
7. Provide feedback Reinforcement and assessment of correct performance
8. Assess performance Retrieval and reinforcement of content as final evaluation
9. Enhance retention and transfer to the job Retrieval and generalization of learned skill to new situation

Next Time: E-Learning Adoption in Organisations 

* Yes, his name is Robert Gagné (with an acute aigu), but English speakers typically don’t enter accents into Google, and I’m nothing if not pragmatic…


Gagne, R. M., (1972). Domains of learning. Interchange 3(1),pp.1-8.

Gagne, R. M., Wager, W. W., Golas, K. and Keller, J.M. (2004). Principles of Instructional Design (5th.Ed.). Wadsworth Publishing Co Inc.

Kruse, K. (2006). Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction: An Introduction. E-Learning Guru. Internet: Available from: Accessed 12 June 2009

Hriko, M. (2008) Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction. In: Tomei, L.A., Morris, R. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Information Technology Curriculum Integration. Information Science Reference

Wager, W. (2004) Robert M. Gagne. In: Kovalchick, A., and Dawson, K. (Eds.), Education & Technology: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO