Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Gagne's 9 Events of Instruction

This is number 1 on my list of "Learning Theories that Actually Work."

Gagne's Nine Events of Instruction are a research-based learning model, a proven path for learners that you can use as you design learning experiences for others. Gagne is the granddaddy of learning models, the model for many other learning models.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a learning model, you should recognize that every learning event has one, whether the model is any good or not, or whether the instructor even knows it exists or not. The only one that is widely known is, "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them." It's not terribly sophisticated, but it manages to hit three of Gagne's nine events (1, 4, and 9). In medicine, it's "Watch one, do one, teach one," (4, 6, and 9). In too many corporate training rooms it's "Death by Powerpoint" (4).

Here are Gagne's Nine:

1. Gain attention
2. Inform the learner of objectives
3. Stimulate the recall of prior learning
4. Present stimulus material (new content)
5. Provide learner guidance
6. Elicit performance
7. Provide feedback
8. Assess performance
9. Enhance retention and transfer

Let's look at Gagne in light of my criteria for being included on a list of Learning Theories That Actually Work:
  • It makes sense on the face of it
First, it is a repeatable pattern, a format. That alone provides structure, which means it gives you the ability to assure quality. It can be used as a checklist as you design any learning experience. Second, each step makes sense in its own right. Here are the 9 steps in one readily-identifiable context: 

1. Okay, class, I've got a question for you... (gain attention)
2. When we're done, here's what you'll be able to do... (state objectives)
3. Remember how you did [the previous lesson]? Well, now we're going one better... (prior learning)
4. Here's what you need to know... (new information)
5. Here are some examples... Everyone got it? Any questions? (provide guidance) 
6. Okay, now you give it a try. (elicit performance)
7. That's a good effort, but it will work better if you do this instead. (provide feedback)
8. And yes, this will be on the quiz tomorrow. (assess performance) 
9. And yes, it will also be on the final exam at the end of the term. (enhance retention)

That's an easy classroom example, but you get the point. It will work as a checklist in any learning environment, technical or otherwise.
  • It has a solid history in research and practice
Gagne started creating his approaches to teaching and learning for the military in World War II. He's written and been written about extensively since then, and his events, or steps of instruction have been a staple everywhere. Just Google "Gagne's nine events" and you'll find a long list of people, schools, and organizations that are using it, from Northern Illinois University to IEEE to InstructionalDesign.org to the US Embassy in Hungary. If you look hard enough you'll find that research has been done on each step, and on the steps in combination, but it's the sheer weight of its diverse usage over such a long period time that is more than enough to pass this criteria.
  • It's easy to implement
This is as easy to use as any other checklist. In order to generate a learning experience for others, you have to devise events and activities and put them in order anyway. Each lesson, each unique module, each seminar, each whatever, should follow a carefully considered pattern, and for the sake of learners, that pattern shouldn't vary dramatically lesson to lesson. That pattern is your learning model. Gagne is a great default. Vary where you want, but vary because you decided to vary not because you forgot something. It costs nothing (except maybe the extra time it always takes to do something right!)
  • I've tried it and it works
Early in my career I was more a media producer than a learning developer, and research-backed learning models were an absolute revelation to me. If the steps didn't work, I never would have kept using them--I'd have just added more video, more animation, more of that powerful media stuff everyone likes. But in fact, a good learning model is everything. I once took a job where literally millions of dollars were being spent on high-gloss "TV shows" that were purported to be training. I instituted Gagne, created a development process around it, and dropped a lot of costs (not quality) while improving the learning outcomes dramatically. Gagne improved both my learning and business results, and I was hooked. Now I take him everywhere I go.

Click here to go to the next learning theory that actually works.

Click in any order:

1. Gagne's 9 Events (Learning Model)
2. Felder-Silverman Learning Styles Model (Global/Sequential, Visual/Verbal)
3. Social Learning Theory (Role Models)
4. Maslow's Hierarchy (Identity-Level Outcomes)
5. Bloom's Taxonomy (Critical Thinking)
6. Active Learning (Discovery, Flipping the Classroom)
7. Metacognition (Self-Awareness)
8. Kirkpatrick's 4 Levels of Evaluation (Outcome Measurement)

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